NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Residents, business owners and city leaders alike are trying to figure out what additional measures can be taken to try and stem violence from occurring in the heart of the city’s cultural arts and entertainment district.
At Monday’s monthly Downtown Norfolk Civic League meeting several ideas were thrown out, including limiting late-night downtown parking, doing away with “bottle service,” as well as another push to close all bars and restaurants in the downtown area at midnight.
The meeting, which was attended by council members, a deputy city manager and the interim police chief, was the first following a quadruple shooting that happened in the early morning hours of August 5 on East Plume Street.
It is the ninth shooting incident in the area this year, according to data from the Norfolk Police Department.
Lelia Vann, president of the civic league, said the meeting was one the largest attended in memory. In the days leading up to it, she said league members made clear why it would be.
“Our members are pretty upset,” Vann said. “It’s gotten so unsafe out there. It feels unsafe if we go out there.”
Downtown safety has been in the spotlight for the better part of a year. Following several shootings last summer, Norfolk City Council shut down a nightclub in the NEON district.
In March, a quintuple shooting outside a nightclub resulted in the deaths of three people. In April, a man was killed in MacArthur Center.
While the city has moved to beef up police patrols and bring in surveillance cameras, Interim Police Chief Mike Goldsmith said it has done little to stop people from pulling a gun.
“Cameras don’t seem to be any type of deterrent,” Goldsmith said to civic league members.
The day of the most recent shooting, Gloldsmith said officers and sheriff’s deputies were already outside Legacy Lounge after a fight broke out inside.
It’s one of the reasons City Manager Chip Filer has put the onus on establishments.
“Make no mistake, this latest event is now the end. We have tried cajoling, we have tried asking, we have tried incentivizing, we have tried begging. Those days are now over and the repercussions will now begin,” Filer said in a press conference.
While a woman who identified herself as a bar manager for Legacy initially told a 10 On Your Side reporter that she saw nothing go wrong inside the club, a video obtained by law enforcement and viewed by 10 On Your Side shows another story.
Tyshawn Gray, 25, was charged with the crime, which included aggravated assault of a Norfolk sheriff’s deputy. The video appears to show Gray involved in a fight and being dragged towards the exit of the lounge ahead of the shooting.
While the club is still operational, Councilwoman Courtney Doyle assured civic league members that reviews are underway.
“The code enforcement efforts, and the zoning and the permitting, and the conditional use permit reviews are ongoing and very deep,” Doyle said. I don’t want to say much more than that because I don’t want to compromise the efforts of the city.”
Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts said the newly created “business compliance unit” is still building up its staffing. He said outside of code enforcement, however, new traffic control measures are also being studied.
“Look at some ways to potentially modify the parking and traffic, particularly as it relates to late nights downtown,” Roberts said.
Roberts said the goal is to cut down on some of the illegal activity they see taking place in vehicles.
Finally, he said the city is working to improve its relationship with the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority.
At this, civic league members suggested the practice of “bottle service” in clubs try to be eliminated.
Bottle service is when you are able to order a whole bottle of liquor to your table in a club, to drink at your convenience.
While it may sound innocent, Charles Rasputin, owner of The Slowdive Gallery on the edge of downtown, said it is viewed as a way to show status.
“It creates this competitive environment of whose the biggest baller. Who has the most money,” Rasputin said. “I think it’s one of the things as legally as possible needs to be taken out of the culture of nightlife.”
A fight that lead to the shooting outside Chicho’s Backstage, started with a spilled drink, former Police Chief Larry Boone said.
Councilwoman Andria McClellan, who along with Doyle represents downtown, applauded the ideas and efforts but warned of going too far.
“We have to be very careful about … not to be so heavy-handed that we hurt everybody,” McClellan said in a nod to business owners who have complained they are not the problem. She said she still wants a “vibrant” downtown.
Doyle however still says she will support a midnight closing until things are under control.
“That’s something we still need to discuss amongst ourselves with council,” Doyle said. “The, frankly, lack of respect and regard for people’s lives is just inordinate.”