What to Know
- The general manager of a Staten Island bar was arrested for the second time in a week for opening in violation of COVID rules
- Daniel Presti allegedly struck a sheriff's deputy with his car while fleeing arrest - and kept driving with the deputy clinging to the hood
- Presti's bar, Mac's Public House, became a flashpoint after declaring itself an "autonomous zone" that would not comply with closure orders
The Staten Island district attorney's office issued an updated statement on the fracas involving repeat COVID infractions by a local bar co-owner on Thursday, emphasizing his intent to fully prosecute the case and asking Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to back off public comments in the meantime.
Daniel Presti, co-owner of Mac's Public House, was arrested for the second time in a week on Sunday for repeatedly defying coronavirus restrictions -- and in the latest case, allegedly fractured a sheriff deputy's legs as he fled in his car.
Presti maintained his innocence in a press conference on Monday after repeat and visceral condemnations from Mayor de Blasio and Cuomo, both of whom were asked in their respective briefings that day to comment on his behavior.
On Thursday, Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon asked both officials to refrain from such public commentary as the investigation progresses.
"My office charged Mr. Presti with multiple felonies as put forth in the criminal complaint against him, and we intend to fully prosecute this matter based on the facts and evidence," McMahon said. "As this case remains actively under investigation, it would be irresponsible for those in positions of power, including the mayor and governor, to publicly play judge and jury on a criminal matter at this early stage."
Much of the official criticism had stemmed from questions about Presti's release on bail following his latest arrest. Of that, McMahon said 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."
Presti has been accused of keeping his bar open despite strict COVID restrictions, which have only grown more stringent in recent weeks. Bars must serve food along with drinks to patrons; they must also abide by a 10 p.m. curfew and ensure social distancing and mask-wearing among guests. Presti has been accused of a multitude of violations of various COVID rules over the last two weeks.
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 has had his liquor license suspended, but allegedly opened his doors for business anyway.
Amid the criticism, he has had staunch support among Staten Islanders who feel government should not be interfering with local businesses.
Earlier this week, Mac Public House's owners said business operations would be suspended for several days out of respect for the official investigation. They also postponed a previously scheduled march of supporters earlier this week.
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 she disagrees with protesters and said she just wants 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.