Police: Lounge owner shamed by Lamont is third person arrested after deadly party

BRIDGEPORT — A restaurant owner shamed on social media last fall by the governor for breaking coronavirus rules has been arrested for his alleged involvement in a recent downtown party where two people were killed.

Police said they took Mitch Noel, owner of Ten20 Lounge on the East End, into custody Wednesday afternoon after securing an arrest warrant to charge him with second-degree reckless endangerment.

Bond was set at $2,500. Noel is scheduled to appear June 23 at the Fairfield County Courthouse on Gold Hill Street.

Noel, 37, is the third individual charged by local law enforcement over an early morning May 16 party at 1023 Main St. — leased by the Temple of the Way House of Worship — where Charles Barnes, 38, and Norman Peters, 40, were shot and killed around 2 a.m.

Last week, police arrested Josiah Israel, Temple of the Way’s pastor, and Christopher Mojica, on charges of illegal sale of alcohol, conspiracy to commit illegal sale of alcohol and second-degree reckless endangerment. Following the deadly shootings, Israel told Hearst Connecticut Media his storefront church subleased the party space, and Mojica said he organized the May 16 event.

The two men had also linked Noel and Ten20 to the party, saying the restaurant had partnered with Mojica to provide food and drinks.

“They had their own party (at Ten20). We came to an agreement that I’d use my spot for the ‘after party,’” Mojica previously said.

City and state health officials shuttered Ten20, 1450 Barnum Ave., last fall for holding what appeared to be a packed, maskless Oct. 24 bash that violated capacity and mask-wearing guidelines businesses had to follow for much of the past 15 months to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The incident received statewide attention Oct. 27 after Gov. Ned Lamont through Twitter circulated online video footage of the festivities as one example of why coronavirus cases were increasing in Connecticut at that time.

“This is what we’re talking about when we mention establishments not obeying the rules,” Lamont tweeted. “This was in Bridgeport over the weekend. ... This isn’t fair to all of the restaurants across CT looking out for their customers.”

Noel, in an interview afterward, said it was a private birthday party and the online footage Lamont tweeted was of the finale, when guests who had been outdoors got cold and went inside as the event was wrapping up.

“Yes, the person who had the event had a lot of people come. ... We had people outside and inside. It got cold outside so they came inside as we were closing. ... It did get out of hand, but we did separate people. (And) the videos circulating are people coming in as we were shutting down,” Noel said then.

He appealed the forced closure with the state and, following an inspection by health officials, was allowed to reopen in December under a three-month probationary period. Noel’s attorney in that matter, Reine Boyer, said at the time of the agreement that her client was not “trying to be difficult.”

“This business is their livelihood and they want to be able to provide quality services to the city and run their business,” Boyer said. “But they are also mindful and very much concerned about the residents of the city and anyone who comes to patronize their establishment as far as safety.”

Neither Boyer nor Noel could be immediately reached for comment.

It is not yet known whether the city and state will fine Israel, Mojia and Noel for violating COVID regulations May 16. While on May 19 most of those rules were lifted, the three could face a $10,000 penalty, according to the state health department, because on the night of the gathering at Temple of the Way a midnight curfew was still in place.

The two homicides remain under investigation. Police Capt. Kevin Gilleran said investigators continue to chase down several leads. Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Martin Heanue at 203-581-5242 or the police tips line at 203-576-TIPS.

In a related story, on Tuesday Bridgeport’s Civil Service Commission voted to terminate a rookie police officer who, days after graduating the academy, attended the party inside Temple of the Way while off-duty and lost her badge and other personal belongings.

That officer — Kaitlyn Edwards — had initially been placed on paid administrative status and Acting Police Chief Rebeca Garcia subsequently recommended she be terminated.