Low Key Hearing, Part 2: Town Lawyer Questions Manager’s Veracity

by | May 23, 2024

Above: Asst. Town Solicitor Peter Skwirz, standing, during his cross examination of William Laliberty, manager and bartender at LowKey (seated on the dais on the far right), Tuesday, May 21.

By Ellen Galoob and Elizabeth McNamara

Low Key’s show-cause hearing before the Town Council, sitting as the Board of Licensures, continued Tuesday (5/21/24) over alleged violations of underage drinking and loitering, and it focused on the veracity of Low Key’s manager William Laliberty. 

The case centers on the night of July 26, 2023, when police were notified that there was someone dancing on Low Key’s roof. Officers pursued a couple of youths aged 18 and 20 respectively and, according to police, both said they had been in the bar earlier that evening. Two officers testified at the first evening of the hearing, April 9. During that session, police said they were able to watch surveillance footage from earlier that evening and picked out one individual who matched the description of one of the men they had been talking with. That individual was holding what appeared to be a plastic cup in photos from the video taken by the police and introduced as evidence.

During direct examination by Low Key lawyer Sean O’Leary, Laliberty testified that no minors had been served at Low Key the night of July 26, 2023. He told O’Leary he had never served anyone underage in his 20 years of bartending. Laliberty explained that the bar typically uses a two-prong method for weeding out people who are underage, stopping them first at the door to check an ID but also at the bar if the bartender has a suspicion. 

“I tell the bartenders to check the license again if they aren’t sure they got checked at the door or are just concerned,” he testified.

O’Leary showed Laliberty the photo of the bar that had been introduced as evidence during the first hearing. According to Laliberty, the person was drinking a soft drink or water since alcoholic drinks are routinely served in glasses, the implication being that even if this person was underage, he was not drinking an alcoholic beverage. 

During cross examination, Asst. Town Solicitor Peter Skwirz reviewed Laliberty’s previous testimony about his ability to ferret out underage patrons; Laliberty reiterated that he had never served anyone who was underage. Skwirz then raised Laliberty’s past criminal history, including three felony drug convictions, one in 2013 involving Laliberty selling MDMA (aka Molly) from the bar at Clam Jammers in Narragansett. Objections from O’Leary were largely denied, with Town Council President Mark Schwager saying at one point that the testimony could continue to “test credibility.” 

An objection to Skwirz’s attempt to ask Laliberty about something that was reportedly said by Low Key owner Zach Flanders in an East Greenwich News article in 2021 was upheld. Skwirz was asking Laliberty about his claim on an earlier version of his LinkedIn page that he was a co-owner in Low Key. In the EG News article, which was a feature about Low Key opening, Flanders referred to Laliberty as a “profit-sharing partner.” 

Skwirz finished his questions shortly after that. The Town Council members in attendance – Councilor Caryn Corenthal had recused herself from the proceedings – asked more questions. Both Mike Donegan and Renu Englehart asked Laliberty about the police testimony that Laliberty had said on July 26 that some underage people could slip through, gaining entry into Low Key. Laliberty said he would not have said that. Councilor Mike Zarrella asked Laliberty about the patrons that night – Laliberty had said earlier there were some college students there. Zarrella said if they were college students, then most likely they were younger than 21. Laliberty said yes. “And you would have served that person a beer if they’d asked for one?” Zarrella said. Laliberty said yes.

Regarding the ownership issue, after the hearing Skirwz cited RIGL 3-5-10, which says a board of licensures (the Town Council in this case) “shall not issue a license unless ‘each officer, director or stockholder is a suitable person to hold a license within the discretion of the board.’” Skirwz added, “Low Key had an obligation to list on its liquor license application all owners, officers, partners or anyone having an interest in the license.”

Flanders is the only name listed on LowKey’s liquor license application.

After a brief recess following Laliberty’s testimony, O’Leary called Zach Flanders to the stand, but Councilman Zarrella made a motion to continue the proceedings to a later date, citing the lateness of the hour. O’Leary agreed. 

The hearing started with O’Leary seeking a motion to dismiss, on the grounds of unconstitutionality and lack of evidence. O’Leary called the actions of the prosecution “pressure tactics” and perpetuation of a “smear campaign.” The Town Council’s legal advisor for this proceeding, Matt Oliverio, said only the state Superior Court could rule on constitutionality. He noted there was plenty of evidence to review and the Town Council could decide based on its merits. 

O’Leary then requested a stay so he could seek such a determination from Superior Court. That was also denied. Councilors said he could file in Superior Court but this proceeding would continue. 

The hearing was continued to June 12.  

Ellen Galoob is a student at URI and an intern for East Greenwich News. 

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Bruce Mastracchio
Bruce Mastracchio
May 27, 2024 6:15 am

Where there’s smoke…….

Zachary A Taylor
Zachary A Taylor
May 27, 2024 6:50 am

Is Low Key still in operation, or have they been granted permission to remain open?

Elizabeth McNamara
May 28, 2024 2:37 pm

It is open. They have a one-year license, like other establishments, that comes up for renewal Dec. 1.

Scott Summer
Scott Summer
May 28, 2024 6:55 am

Great job, Ellen!


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