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State VFW: Fights, noise were reason for closure of Taftville post

By Jennifer McDermott and Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published February 03. 2014 4:00AM   Updated February 04. 2014 8:39AM
Local commander vows improvement

Norwich — The state's top VFW official said Monday he closed the Taftville post for 30 days because the police had been called there numerous times to deal with noise complaints and fights.

Such behavior tarnishes the image of the organization, Robert Froelick, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of Connecticut, said Monday.

"We're a better organization than that," he said.

According to Norwich Police Department records, police have been called to the Taftville Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2212 at 36 Pratte Ave. 75 times in the past 10 years for reported disturbances, suspicious activity, fights in progress and other incidents, said Sgt. Peter Camp, supervisor of the community policing unit. There may have been additional calls not logged in as that specific address.

After there was a fight on Jan. 17, Froelick said, he was convinced the post should be temporarily closed.

At 2:09 a.m. Jan. 17, after the bar had closed, Camp said, police responded to a disturbance in the parking lot involving three men and two women. A handgun was displayed, but no shots were fired.

Police charged Anthony W. Cornish, 31, of 23 S. Fourth Ave., Apt. B, Taftville, with carrying a firearm while under the influence of alcohol, first-degree reckless endangerment, breach of peace and operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Camp said he did not know if Cornish was a VFW member, but said he was known to be a regular patron at the facility and he was allowed to return to the bar the following day.

Police also charged Sandra L. Chenette, 27, of 57 Butts Bridge Road, Canterbury, and Tanya M. Burt, 32, of 27 Norwich Ave., with breach of peace.

Camp said Norwich police did not ask state VFW officials to close the post and were not involved in the decision — other than to assist state VFW officials in shutting down the facility Thursday night. About 20 patrons were at the club at that time.

"It's nice to see that the state VFW is policing their own," Camp said. "Based on the calls for service there, I commend them. I do know it's important to the neighbors up there, and if it's important to them, it's important to us."

Froelick said the post officers had been previously warned that the state VFW had problems with their record keeping and the behavior of some of the patrons.

George Bousquet, the Taftville post commander, said he agrees with the neighbors that it has been too loud at times when the post hall has been rented for parties. He said he plans to find a post member who can stay at the post during events to monitor the noise.

"If I lived across the street, I would be as mad as they are," he said.

But, Bousquet said, he does not know what he can do about any fights outside of the post.

"I don't escort people out there and put them in their cars and say, 'You go to the left and you go to the right,'" Bousquet said. "Once you throw someone out, what can you realistically do?"

Most of the troublemakers are guests of members, and not veterans, Bousquet added. The post has about 54 members.

When asked about the closure on Sunday, Bousquet initially told The Day the post has been closed because of lapses in record keeping. He did not mention the fights and disturbances, which were the main reasons for the closure.

Neighbor Dolores LaBonte said she and her neighbors have called police a number of times for loud noise, fights and other incidents at the VFW. She said some patrons leaving the bar have hit parked cars in the neighborhood. LaBonte also called the state VFW office to complain.

LaBonte said she has lived in the neighborhood for the past 50 years and has witnessed an increase in problems at the VFW. Often, people argue and fight in the parking lot using vulgar language, LaBonte said.

"It's like living on a different street with that place closed," LaBonte said. "It's like heaven."

Denise Relyea, chairwoman of the Taftville Neighborhood Watch, said her property abuts the VFW. While Relyea said she hasn't experienced the loud noises and disturbances, the VFW had a large rotted tree that crashed into her yard, leaving debris. She said the VFW has not been responsive in taking care of the damage.

During the suspension, the post officers also are suspended and the state commander appoints trustees to pay the post's bills and take over any other affairs, said Ronald "Rusko" Rusakiewicz, the state VFW adjutant/quartermaster.

"We're in control of the books and the building," he said. "We put our locks on the doors."

The state and post officers will meet this month to discuss the way forward. The Neighborhood Watch also will discuss the situation at its regular meeting, which is open to the public, at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, at the Taftville Fire Department.

Froelick could decide to reopen the post, continue the suspension for up to a total of 90 days, or recommend that the national organization revoke the charter. Froelick said he wants to work with the post.

"We hate this, because a lot of these guys, we fought with them or they fought before us," he said. "And it's like a family. You have to look after your family."

Bousquet said the post will not close because he intends to comply with all of the state VFW's requests.

"We are definitely going to make a major, major, major effort to improve," he said. "Veterans deserve to have their hall open to them when they want it. I have to do a better job."

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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