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Video shows woman at center of fracas; Evidence from casino fight heads to DA

A woman "wearing a purple dress" has emerged as a key figure in the Niagara Falls police investigation into the casino fight that has led to numerous accusations and allegations involving State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti and his wife.

Meanwhile, the evidence compiled by detectives has been turned over to the Niagara County District Attorney's Office, which is expected to determine in the next couple of days whether any new charges will be filed.

The woman in the purple dress was seen on security video involved in a fight with Maria Grisanti late on the night of Feb. 10 in the Seneca Niagara Casino, according to a Niagara Falls police report.

"She seems to be in the center of all this," Niagara Falls Police Capt. William M. Thomson said Monday, when asked about the police reference to the woman in the purple dress.

Police first responded to the barroom fight at 10:59 p.m., spoke with various people who either were participants or eyewitnesses and later returned to the casino for more information from casino security.

"Officers were shown video footage from the incident which showed a female party wearing a purple dress approach Maria Grisanti in a threatening manner," the three-page police incident report states. "An altercation appears to take place and Maria Grisanti falls to the floor and the female party in the purple dress is on top of her."

The report goes on to state that the fight was broken up and that the woman in the purple dress got into an elevator. Hotel security cameras later showed her entering Room 519, where a woman answering the door told police that her daughter, Ellen Heron, had been wearing a purple dress earlier in the night.

Heron's attorney could not be reached to comment Monday.

The police report, dated Feb. 11, goes on to state that the evidence, including the security footage, was inconclusive at the time, and detectives filed no additional charges. On the night of the fight, another woman was charged with disorderly conduct, a violation.

Early last week, Niagara Falls detectives suggested that no more charges might be filed. But since then, several people involved or close to the fight have talked with detectives.

The Grisantis have said they want to press criminal charges against the people they accused of attacking them, including two women they claim beat Maria Grisanti and slammed her head on the floor.

Some Seneca Nation witnesses have accused the Grisantis of being the aggressors, claiming that Mark Grisanti punched one person as they were leaving the casino. But one other Seneca member, through an attorney, has called the Grisantis the victims.

The Grisantis also have a hospital report showing that Maria Grisanti suffered a concussion in the attack. Another person, Eric White, suffered a sprained knee in the fight.

While the evidence now is in the hands of Niagara County prosecutors, authorities Monday downplayed the chances of the case going to the Niagara County grand jury. Grand juries typically investigate felony crimes; a felony assault would require a serious physical injury.

"We don't see the physical injury meeting the level of a felony," said Thomson, the chief of detectives. "There's physical injury, but not serious physical injury."

Investigators who have probed numerous bar fights aren't surprised at the various conflicting versions of what happened that night. They say that barroom battles often feature widely varying accounts, sometimes fueled by alcohol.

That makes these cases tougher to prosecute, beyond a reasonable doubt, especially if witnesses cite punches, shoves and physical attacks coming from both sides.