Chilmark gathering ends with arrest

A memorial service at the Chilmark Community Center that combined a potluck dinner with musical performances ended with the arrest of a well known Chilmark fisherman who, police said, groped a 15-year-old girl and punched a teenage boy, at the event. The incident also led to questions about the proper use of the community hall.

Chilmark police arrested Karsten D. Larsen after responding to a report of an assault. Mr. Larsen, 43, was arraigned in Edgartown District Court Monday morning on three charges of threat to commit a crime, two charges of assault and battery, and one charge of indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or over. The court entered not guilty pleas on Mr. Larsen’s behalf and set bail at $1,000.

According to the police report prepared by Chilmark Officer Jeff Day, three teenagers attending the event walked to the nearby Chilmark police station shortly after 10 pm Saturday, to report the assaults. One of the teenagers told Officer Day, “an older drunk man came up and groped his friend.” The teenager told police the man then punched another teenager and wrestled with a third teen, as they tried to intervene. Police accompanied one of the teenagers back to the community center, where the parking lot was full, a band was playing, and there were about 100 people inside, according to the report. The teenager identified Mr. Larsen as the person who assaulted him and his friends. Later, the girl he is accused of groping identified Mr. Larsen independently, according to police.

Officer Day reported that, in response to questions, Mr. Larsen said the teenager started a fight with him. He asked police to give him a ride home. Officer Day said Mr. Larsen exhibited obvious signs of intoxication.

“Mr. Larsen is known to me. I have seen him drunk and sober. At this time he was very drunk,” Officer Day wrote. Then, according to the police report, a man later identified as Jeffrey Canha approached and told Officer Day, “‘you are not taking him anywhere.’” Officer Day wrote that Mr. Canha also exhibited obvious signs of intoxication. At Officer Day’s request, a West Tisbury officer, who responded to a call for backup, took Mr. Canha into protective custody but did not charge him.

The mother of the teenage girl arrived at the police station. Writing about the girl and her friends, Mr. Day said, “She and her friends were very sophisticated, well educated, and brave.” Officer Day called Chilmark Police Chief Brian Cioffi to respond because of the sexual nature of the allegations. Chief Cioffi, in his own report, wrote that the 15-year-old high school sophomore told him, “Mr. Larsen came up behind her and was hugging her. She stated that she turned around because she thought it was one of her friends. At the same time, she stated, Mr. Larsen put his hands down her shirt.”

While being questioned by the police, Mr. Larsen became belligerent and threatening, Chief Cioffi said in his report. Mr. Larsen asked to speak to the chief privately.

“Mr. Larsen stated that I had better be scared, because he would be coming for me,” Mr. Cioffi wrote in his report. Mr. Larsen continued to make threats against Mr. Cioffi and others, according to the report.

Local radio station WVVY sponsored the Saturday night event and described it on the radio station’s web site and on the permission form submitted to the town as a memorial for the late Tom Osmers. Mr. Osmers was a well-known fisherman who participated in WVVY radio programs. He died March 12. According to a request form, MV Community Radio Inc. asked to use the community center. The radio corporation is a nonprofit that operates the WVVY, a low-power FM station.

Jim Glavin made the application, in his capacity as treasurer of WVVY. In a telephone conversation Tuesday, Mr. Glavin told The Times Mr. Larsen never entered the main part of the community center, and most people at the event were unaware of any incidents.

“The whole thing was definitely not the tone of the event,” Mr. Glavin said. “We put a lot of effort to have a nice event, and we did. There definitely was not a lot of drinking.”

Tim Carroll, Chilmark executive secretary, said the town has taken steps in recent years to limit community center events to small, local gatherings such as weddings, birthdays, and memorial services. Guidelines require that permission to use the community center must go to people who are residents of Chilmark, or who have a sponsor in the town.

“We don’t want to be a venue,” Mr. Carroll said. “We’re a community center. We discourage alcohol, and we encourage weddings to have liquor insurance and hire paid bartenders. This came through as a pure memorial service. This didn’t come through as a party. No one ever told us they were going to have a concert and a party. From now on, when someone asks to have a memorial celebration, we’re going to pay more attention.”

The town charged no fee for use of the community center, a common arrangement for nonprofit groups. The radio company made a deposit of $200. The permission form indemnifies the town and its officers from any “suits, proceedings, claims, demands, losses, costs and expenses,” arising from use of the community center.