NIAGARA FALLS, ONT. - The Niagara Regional Police moved to address criticism surrounding its response to the Avenue Inn rampage, disputing the motel manager’s claims the officers who were on scene Friday night didn’t do enough to prevent a high school party from descending into a night of havoc.
“This is not a black-and-white issue, not even close,” said Const. Sal Basilone, at the Niagara Falls detachment. "There’s a lot of grey area here and we want to ensure that the public has the information that the police service took action."
Basilone was responding to the fallout from a Friday night post-prom party that left an astonishing trail of destruction in 22 of the 35 rooms rented by students from Welland’s Notre Dame College School.
The sheer devastation prompted motel owner David Linqi Liu, his son Harry Liu and manager Robert Forget to go public Monday, telling QMI Agency that whoever was responsible for the damage needs to be held accountable.
As of Wednesday, Harry Liu said the motel still hadn’t received a single phone call from any of the students staying in the rooms, or their parents.
“No students or parents have stepped up to contact us,” Liu said, adding his family is contemplating its options, which could include legal action against the guests.
But it was the motel side’s claims about the police response that has sparked debate in the media and online.
According to the Lius and Forget, the officers at the motel had the opportunity to intervene and prevent the vandalism, but didn’t.
Police said that based on what they knew at the time, they acted appropriately.
Accounts of what happened that night begin to diverge, depending on who is telling the story.
The ranking officer Friday night, Sgt. Patrick McGilly, outlined the police response Wednesday. McGilly was accompanied by Basilone and Insp. Chris Cincio, who oversees the Niagara Falls division.
“We’ve got to follow this up and look into it more,” Cincio said of the incident.
McGilly said a patrol car driven by Const. Matt Maguire arrived at the motel sometime before 11 p.m. Police hadn’t been called, but Maguire, seeing the group of kids in the parking lot, wanted to see what was going on.
After surveying the motel situation, Maguire called McGilly and asked him to come over. The owner wanted the Notre Dame students in the 35 rooms to be cleared out, Maguire said.
McGilly arrived at 11:05 p.m. and according to him, accompanied Forget in an inspection of the rooms in the motel’s east building.
“I’ve got it in my notes that we went to every room, that we inspected them,” McGilly said, adding they told the kids who weren’t staying overnight to leave.
Asked if he saw any destruction in the rooms, McGilly said that beyond the usual stuff to be expected with a teen party – liquor bottles strewn about, a broken window, a door with its lock broken off – nothing seemed to warrant a mass eviction.
“They were drinking,” McGilly said. "They were kids at a prom that were drinking and mingling together. There was no yelling, swearing. There was no fights, nothing to show any criminality."
Asked why the apparent underage drinking didn’t cause officers to break up the party, McGilly said he made the decision to not cast the remaining kids out into the streets for their own safety.
By the time McGilly left at 11:35 p.m., he said he had no indication the motel was either being trashed or was about to be.
Police also did drive-bys throughout the night, but were never given any indication that all hell had broken loose in the rooms, he said.
“At no time did myself or any of my officers shirk their responsibilities,” McGilly said. "Ultimately, we are there to make sure that everybody has a great time while they’re here and enjoys themselves, but that they’re safe."
Forget’s version differs from the police account.
According to Forget, the police who arrived at the motel Friday night left after only checking five rooms.
Forget said police stopped the room inspections and told him wasn’t their job to go room to room.
He also said that police told him to not call them later in the night.
“They told me not to call, because they won’t come help,” Forget said. "They told me that it’s our fault that we rented rooms to these kids, that they were done helping at that point and not to bother calling them because they’re not going to come back. That’s exactly what he said to me. It was close to around 10 o’clock at night."
After police left, Forget said he walked over to check out the rest of the rooms. It was then that he discovered the devastation in Room 135. Holes had been kicked through the drywall and the ceiling, and ductwork had been pulled down.
“When (police) walked away, I went and checked out more rooms and that’s what I found,” Forget said, adding he "never bothered calling them because they told me they weren’t going to come, so I basically tried to take care of it myself."
McGilly said that any claims of police abandoning the scene and telling Forget not to call them are not true.
“That’s a ridiculous statement,” McGilly said. "We’re there to preserve the peace and when we were there, like I said, there were no arguments, no signs of excessive intoxication."
Basilone said the suggestion made earlier in the week by police that the situation is a civil matter, and not necessarily a criminal one, is being re-examined.
“It’s really an unfortunate set of circumstances that leaves a whole bunch of kids, a motel owner and the police feeling that we could do things better,” Basilone said. "We could do things better. And you know what? We’ve learned from this instance."