Gov. Andrew Cuomo said criminal liability may be involved in a weekend drive-in concert in the Hamptons that drew a sold-out crowd as well as harsh online criticism over an apparent lack of social distancing. The state Department of Health is currently investigating the concert, headlined by The Chainsmokers.
Images of large crowds attending Saturday night's concert trickled onto social media the day after the charity event, quickly inciting criticism over lacking social distancing enforcement. The idea had been to allow attendees to enjoy the performances from inside their vehicles or outside but within parking spot lines.
But some footage, including one video that had been viewed more than seven million times by Tuesday, seemed to show people mingling, many of them without masks. Cuomo tweeted that he was "appalled" by the "egregious" violations.
"A drive-in concert is a drive-in concert. It's when we don't follow the rules and do what we actually say we're going to do," the governor said Tuesday. "The town of Southampton is going to have a problem. The promoters are going to have a problem. This is a law. It's not, 'Please do me a favor.'"
Cuomo said the state’s investigation will look at the role of local leaders and reports of “ongoing” violations in the village of Southampton. He warned in a Tuesday call with reporters that violations of public health law can result in civil fines and the potential for criminal liability.
New York's Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker sent a letter to the Southampton Town Supervisor, Jay Schneiderman, to alert him that the state had launched an investigation into the concert.
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"I am at a loss as to how the Town of Southampton could have issued a permit for such an event, how they believed it was legal and not an obvious public health threat," Dr. Zucker wrote, in part.
"It appears the organizers allowed people to congregate in front of the stage. That was not part of the permit. We would never have allowed that," said Schneiderman, whose band had opened the concert. He said he left before up to 200 people rushed the stage.
"The organizer violated from the permit ... now we're looking at corrective action," Schneiderman said at a press conference. "The organizer needs to own this, be accountable, figure out who was in that pit, get everyone tested."
Cuomo said Tuesday he wants to know why local police didn't step in sooner to deal with any problems. However Schneiderman said the officers did, shutting down the concert about 30 minutes after people rushed the stage.
After requesting a response from Schneiderman within 24 hours, the town's attorney replied Tuesday evening, stating in a letter that the town granted a special event permit for the concert, which was held on private property for up to 600 cars and 2,000 people on private property.
"The Town is greatly disturbed by reports of what occurred at the event and are investigating this matter and will hold the organizers accountable," the letter from Southampton Town Attorney James Burke read in part, and offered "official aerial video documenting site conditions" to aid in the state's investigation.
The event had all the promise of a safe and fun experience, at least as detailed by the organizers' webpage and given the restrictions outlined in the town's response to Zucker. Both described how ticket holders were given 20-by-20 foot or 20-by-15 foot parking spaces that were not to be left except for restroom access. The size of the space depended on the ticket price, some of which went for up to $25,000.
Face coverings, which the town said were given out to all guests, were required for event staff and concertgoers who left their "assigned tailgate area" to use the restroom. Hand sanitizing stations were also positioned in every row of the concert area, along with two security guards per row assigned to enforce the rules.
The town said that additional social distancing and temperature-taking measures were adopted as well, and that the event was running smoothly until later on.
"It was until later in the evening that Town officials observed possible permit violations occurring in an area immediately in front of the stage. There was no reference to such an area in the permit application and the Town did not approve any such gathering space," the letter from the town's attorney said. "Once violations became apparent, corrective measures, including requesting organizers to address the situation and the Police Department engaging in efforts to orderly disperse the crowd took place."
The concert organizers issued a statement as well, saying in part that they "made best efforts to ensure New York's social distancing guidelines were properly maintained...the criticism based on a two second video does not actually depict the entire event. This video is misleading."
The governor said that concert promoters have been cited with one violation, and more could follow.
The benefit concert was said to raise funds for No Kid Hungry, Southampton Fresh Air Home, and the Children's Medical Fund of New York.