A Jersey Shore town now has to shell out $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a club owner who says officials didn’t want black performers to play at his venue.
Stephen D’Onofrio, who owned The Sawmill Cafe in Seaside Park, claimed municipal officials purposely tried to ruin his business because they didn’t want black performers on his stage, reports New Jersey 101.5. D’Onofrio filed the suit prior to his selling the club in 2009, but a settlement was only reached in the last week. The lawsuit also named several high-ranking town officials, police officers, and others as defendants, who the club owner said tried to prevent him from booking black bands from 2004 to 2009. D’Onofrio claimed The Sawmill was subjected to various forms of harassment, including fines and forced closings.
The problems started when, on April 13, 2004, the Sawmill Café hosted Method Man. D’Onofrio said in a press statement: “The overreaction and subsequent abuse of power that the Sawmill staff and I endured for years after Method Man played will never be forgotten.”
But city officials refuted this, saying D’Onofrio invited the scrutiny of the police, planning, zoning and building departments after he made alleged misrepresentations to the planning board about the use of part of the venue called the Green Room, where Method Man performed. Zoning officials claimed that the restaurant was actually a night club, and night clubs are prohibited in the borough. Even so, city officials acknowledged that entertainment was prevalent at the Sawmill Café for more than 20 years prior to the Method Man event.
According to the radio station, Borough Mayor Robert Matthies confirmed the settlement, saying the town decided it was in “the best interests” of all the defendants. Under the deal, none of the defendants admitted doing anything improper.
“This case is a reminder that there are indeed consequences for the abuse of power by local governments. This is an excellent result for our client, which is what we always strive for,” D’Onofrio’s lawyer Philip Davolos of the law firm Chance and McCann of Bridgeton, said in a press release.