May 8, 2018 10:37:06 AM
Zack Plair - [email protected]
Another Columbus night club will temporarily reduce its hours following a weekend shooting that injured two men across the street from its premises.
Operators for Club Elevation, located at 1603 Seventh Ave. N., have agreed to close at midnight -- one hour earlier than normal -- and post "No Loitering" and "No Trespassing" signs on club grounds, Mayor Robert Smith told The Dispatch Monday. In return, he said, the city has agreed to install more street lighting around the club.
The two victims sustained non life-threatening injuries when they were shot at about 12:17 a.m. Saturday in an empty lot at the corner of Seventh Avenue North and 17th Street, Police Chief Fred Shelton said. The lot, which Herman Lawson owns, sits across the street from Club Elevation, and sources told The Dispatch it is used for club parking.
Shelton, however, said investigators have not determined whether the two victims were leaving the club or had just arrived in Lawson's lot at the time of the shooting. He said Monday the victims are not cooperating with the investigation.
Lowndes County tax records indicate the late Robert E. Smith Jr., the mayor's son who died in December 2016, owns the Club Elevation property, and the mayor said Monday the property still belongs to his son's estate. The mayor, either personally or through his real estate company, RES Real Estate, owned the property from 2007 until he deeded it to the younger Smith in 2016.
Quina Munson and Rhonda Bailey operate Club Elevation, the mayor confirmed. Both also are employed with the city's Public Works Department.
The Dispatch could not reach Munson or Bailey by press time. The mayor did not respond by press time to a text message asking who receives the rent payment for the club.
No records for the estate have been filed with the Lowndes County chancery clerk's office.
In 2010, the club -- then called the Everyday Club and Lounge -- was the site of a shooting that killed one and injured three others.
Shelton said investigators believe at least one shooter drove up to Lawson's lot where the victims were standing, exited a vehicle and fired multiple rounds at the victims before driving away. Aside from the bullets that struck the victims, Shelton said a stray bullet struck a nearby vehicle and house, resulting in no injuries.
One victim, who Shelton said is 31, walked to a residence on 18th Street North and flagged down a Lowndes County sheriff's deputy who happened to be driving by. The deputy was administering first aid when city police officers arrived, and the victim was the taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle where he was treated and released.
The second victim, age 24, attempted to drive himself to the hospital from the scene. However, he made it to 10th Avenue North and Railroad Avenue before calling 911 for assistance.
He was airlifted to University of Mississippi Medical Center, Shelton said, where the victim remains in stable condition.
Shelton does not believe the shooting was a random act of violence, and he said the shooting could have resulted from an altercation that began at another location.
Police have made no arrests.
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact Golden Triangle Crime Stoppers at 1-800-530-7151.
City's handling of previous shootings near clubs
Shootings outside nightclubs, businesses and other facilities have resulted in early closing times on several occasions over the last two years -- including non-fatal shootings outside The Princess Theatre and at the Okay Foods convenience store, an officer-involved fatal shooting outside Premier Lounge on Southside and a fatal shooting on Thanksgiving outside the city-owned Trotter Convention Center.
In those cases, business owners either agreed, or the city council imposed, earlier closing times for up to six months while more security measures -- such as lighting and cameras -- were installed.
Club Elevation also has received the most lenient treatment following shootings. After the early November incident at Premier Lounge, which happened in a lot across the street that the club did not own, the city council imposed a 10 p.m. closing time until more lighting, cameras and other security measures were implemented there.
The owner of The Princess night club downtown, Bart Lawrence, temporarily shut down part of his business and closed the rest at 10 p.m. following a March 2017 incident outside his premises where several cars were hit with bullets but no one was injured. The Trotter closed at 11 p.m. for about four months following a fatal shooting on Fifth Street that stemmed from a Thanksgiving party dispersing from inside the convention center. In both downtown cases, the city increased lighting and camera coverage. In the Princess' case, it required Lawrence to enhance security.
Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones, who represents the area where Club Elevation is located, has routinely opposed forcing business owners to close early, even temporarily, following violent acts outside their facilities. However, he believes business owners and the city need to work better together finding solutions to keep patrons safe.
He added both the city and Club Elevation should consider surveillance cameras to cover the premises and surrounding area.
"I'm not a fan of shutting anybody down early unless the incident happened inside the business," Jones said. "As a city we need to find out what we need to do to make these places safer. Owners and managers of these businesses need to have control of what goes on outside and be concerned with making sure their patrons are safe when going in and out."
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.