What to Know
- The general manager of a Staten Island bar who had been accused of multiple felonies in a confrontation with a sheriff's deputy last month called on the NYC sheriff to resign
- Daniel Presti allegedly struck a sheriff's deputy with his car while fleeing arrest - and kept driving with the deputy clinging to the hood; it was initially reported the deputy suffered fractures to both his legs, but Presit claims this is a lie
- Presti's bar, Mac's Public House, became a flashpoint in November after declaring itself an "autonomous zone" that would not comply with COVID closure orders
The Staten Island bar co-owner who was arrested for repeat COVID infractions late last year and allegedly fractured a sheriff deputy's legs as he fled one law enforcement encounter in his car, now wants the New York City sheriff to resign.
Daniel Presti, whom prosecutors had accused of multiple felonies in a criminal complaint brought to a grand jury, and his lawyer Mark Fonte told the New York Post that the sheriff's office lied about the deputy's injuries, making them seem worse than they actually were, they said.
“I cannot explain the sheriff’s motivation for telling this falsehood,” Fonte said. “These false statements could have tainted a potential jury pool and did in fact taint public opinion.”
In response, the Sherriff's Office said that the injuries sustained by the deputy were "misdiagnosed by the emergency room physician," and that he was still out of work on medical leave as a result of the incident.
"Sergeant Matos is the victim of a crime, an assault using deadly physical force, and his attacker calling for anyone's resignation is genuinely absurd," the office said.
Last Friday, Presti was charged with unlicensed sale of alcohol and operating an unlicensed bottle club, prosecutors said. He however was not charged for the alleged assault on the sheriff's deputy, the charges for which were dropped.
In addition for calling for Joe Fucito's resignation, the owners of Mac's Public House later held a news conference also calling for NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio to step down, and urged the state attorney general to to investigate the NYC Sheriff's Office.
House before their press conference, the mayor said he was "shocked" that Presti would not face charges for the alleged violent encounter.
"These are law enforcement officers, Sheriff's deputies, trying to protect people's lives ... these folks are really heroes and I don't know what this jury was thinking," de Blasio said. "If someone hits another person with a car, that's an offense right there. If you hit a law enforcement officer with your car, that's something profoundly troubling that should lead to an indictment. I'm absolutely shocked."
Presti had drawn a mix of admonishment and praise for repeatedly reopening Mac's Public House in defiance of state and city coronavirus rules -- the former from elected officials and the latter from local advocates who protested in his defense on more than one occasion.
The most sincere condemnations from both de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo came after the incident involving the sheriff's deputy Dec. 6. Presti maintained his innocence as the drama unfolded for weeks.
Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon had convened a grand jury for the case -- and that grand jury found sufficient evidence to charge Presti only with the licensing-related offenses. The bar had been closed multiple times and its license temporarily suspended because of the ongoing COVID protocol breaches.
In a statement Friday, McMahon said he couldn't discuss details on the grand jury proceedings, but could "assure Staten Islanders that we do intend to pursue those charges, and will seek to hold this defendant accountable under the law."
He did say Presti's attorney had previously made public the fact his client testified in the grand jury proceedings. McMahon also said in his statement that his office had "diligently, comprehensively and vigorously pursued all facts and evidence" in the case "and made every effort to present that evidence fairly and impartially."
McMahon also professed his respect for law enforcement officers.
"Throughout my lifetime of public service, and certainly from the outset of this case, I and the members of my team have made clear that we have a great deal of respect for the heroism of law enforcement officers who leave their homes every day to put their lives on the line to execute the laws of this City and State, and to protect our fellow citizens," McMahon said in the statement. "Acts of violence against these officers is not something we take lightly, and my thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Deputy Sheriff injured during the performance of his duty in the early morning hours of December 6 of last year in Grant City."
NYC Deputy Sheriff's Association President Ingrid Simonovic went on to say only that "we're very disappointed" by the grand jury outcome. Sheriff Fucito released a statement later Friday saying the evidence was there for the grand jury to charge Presti with more serious offenses.
"Multiple evidence videos submitted to the grand jury clearly showed deadly physical force was deployed against a uniformed deputy sheriff for carrying out his duty," Fucito said. "The evidence was of equal or greater caliber than other similar deadly assaults where criminal indictments were obtained."
"The choices of the Grand Jury are beyond my review, but we stand by the investigation and actions of the deputy sheriffs concerning Mac’s Pub. Let’s be very clear, Mr. Presti is not the victim here, the injured deputy sheriff is," Fucito added, and thanked the district attorney for his efforts in the case.
McMahon had found his office the target of vehement criticism from elected officials and New York City residents, particularly those outside of Staten Island, after Presti was released on bail following the incident with the deputy.
To that, McMahon said at the time it is "wrong for anyone to assume that bail is indicative of what the outcome of a criminal case will be or how strongly my office will work to pursue justice."
The borough's top prosecutor went on to say that while he understood the challenges facing businesses like Presti's in pandemic times, "no one ever has the right to take the law into their own hands" and place others' lives at risk.
"I urge all Staten Islanders to abide by the law and treat each other with respect and dignity," McMahon continued. "Finally, I want to be clear, the alleged actions of Mr. Presti were dangerous, wrong, and will not be tolerated by this office."
No such condemnation of Presti's actions was evident in Friday's statement.
Presti had been accused of keeping his bar open despite strict COVID restrictions at a time when they were going increasingly strict amid COVID case spikes. Bars were ordered to abide by a 10 p.m. curfew and serve food along with drinks to patrons; they also had to ensure social distancing and mask-wearing among guests. Presti had been accused of a multitude of violations in the weeks prior to his confrontation with the sheriff's deputy.
The tavern is in an area designated by Cuomo as an orange zone because of spiking COVID-19 rates and was not supposed to be serving customers indoors. But the owners had declared the bar an “autonomous zone,” a nod to protesters who claimed control over a Seattle neighborhood in June. Presti had his liquor license suspended but allegedly opened his doors for business anyway.
Amid the criticism, he had staunch support among Staten Islanders who feel government should not be interfering with local businesses.
Staten Island is much more conservative than the rest of New York City and is the only one of the city's five boroughs that voted for Republican President Donald Trump in November. The borough is home to many police officers and firefighters and is usually seen as supportive of law enforcement.
A woman who says she lives near the bar with a 4-month-old baby told NBC New York last month she disagreed with protesters and just wanted the chaos to end.
“We are having rallies going on so people can drink alcohol. Go to a liquor store. Go drink at home. We’re all going through this together. We’re in a pandemic," she said.