Wit­ness: Night­club be­came a ‘war zone’

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - SCOTT CAR­ROLL, AZIZA MUSA, ERIC BES­SON AND HUNTER FIELD

A bar­rage of gun­fire in a crowded down­town night­club early Satur­day in­jured 25 peo­ple, and three oth­ers were hurt as they fled the build­ing, Lit­tle Rock po­lice said.

Po­lice Chief Kenton Buck­ner said of­fi­cers were called about 2:30 a.m. to Power Ul­tra Lounge at 220 W. Sixth St., where “ri­val groups,” which he also re­ferred to as gangs, had opened fire af­ter a dis­pute dur­ing a rap con­cert.

“We do not be­lieve this was an act of ter­ror or an ac­tive shooter sit­u­a­tion,” Buck­ner said.

Wit­nesses said dozens of peo­ple rushed for the ex­its as bul­lets flew and the in­jured pleaded for help. Po­lice es­ti­mated that be­tween 20 and 40 shots were fired.

“They just got to shoot­ing out of nowhere,” said Jaron Eack­les, 25, who said he was shot in the leg and the stom­ach. “You couldn’t see who it was. It was like 40 shots. I hit the ground and just went to the door, and I ended up get­ting shot. You couldn’t see any­thing. It felt like it was never go­ing to stop.”

Buck­ner said the in­jured ranged in age from 16 to 35. They were taken to mul­ti­ple hos­pi­tals in cen­tral

Arkansas for treat­ment. Three were re­port­edly in crit­i­cal con­di­tion Satur­day af­ter­noon.

The shoot­ing oc­curred as Lit­tle Rock strug­gles with an in­crease in vi­o­lent crime that po­lice said be­gan late in 2016 and con­tin­ues.

Buck­ner said po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether the night­club shoot­ing is con­nected to any pre­vi­ous shoot­ings in the city.

The chief said po­lice did not have any sus­pects in the night­club shoot­ing as of late Satur­day, and in­ves­ti­ga­tors didn’t know if the shoot­ers were among the in­jured. No ar­rests had been made late Satur­day.

“I want to re­as­sure our public that this was not an act of ter­ror­ism but a tragedy, a lo­cal com­mu­nity tragedy,” Lit­tle Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said. “It does not ap­pear to be a planned shoot­ing. It ap­pears there was a dis­agree­ment amongst a small sub­set of in­di­vid­u­als at a con­cert that turned vi­o­lent be­cause of the pres­ence of ri­val­ries and weapons.”

The FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Al­co­hol, Tobacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives said their agen­cies are as­sist­ing Lit­tle Rock po­lice in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Lit­tle Rock of­fi­cials said two off-duty of­fi­cers were work­ing as se­cu­rity guards in a park­ing lot across the street from the club be­fore the shoot­ing. The of­fi­cers con­fronted a man in the en­tourage of Mem­phis rap­per Fi­nesse 2Tymes, who per­formed at the club early Satur­day. Po­lice said the man was openly car­ry­ing a gun, and of­fi­cers stopped him from go­ing into the night­club.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve the man later went into the club through a sep­a­rate en­trance, ac­cord­ing to po­lice.

Com­mu­nity lead­ers and elected of­fi­cials in Arkansas and across the coun­try con­demned the shoot­ing, of­fered sup­port to the in­jured and ex­pressed their grat­i­tude to first re­spon­ders.

In Lit­tle Rock, of­fi­cials an­nounced Satur­day af­ter­noon that the city is shut­ting down Power Ul­tra Lounge on grounds that it was op­er­at­ing il­le­gally as an events cen­ter and night­club. City Man­ager Bruce Moore said the build­ing was li­censed as a res­tau­rant.

UAMS Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Lit­tle Rock treated 11 of the shoot­ing vic­tims. Most were treated and re­leased, said Les­lie Tay­lor, vice chan­cel­lor for the Of­fice of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Mar­ket­ing. All of those peo­ple had in­juries that were not con­sid­ered life-threat­en­ing, she said.

Three of the in­jured were taken to CHI St. Vin­cent hos­pi­tal and were listed in sta­ble con­di­tion, said Aaron Sadler, a hos­pi­tal spokesman.

One cou­ple, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied for fear of re­tal­i­a­tion, said their nephew — “an in­no­cent by­stander” — was shot in the arm at the club. He will re­cover, they said, and was rest­ing at UAMS med­i­cal cen­ter Satur­day. The cou­ple added that his fam­ily is pray­ing for all the vic­tims.

Ten vic­tims orig­i­nally were taken to Bap­tist Health hos­pi­tals, said Mark Low­man, vice pres­i­dent for strate­gic devel­op­ment. As of 3 p.m. Satur­day, he said, the hos­pi­tal sys­tem had treated seven vic­tims in to­tal, four in Lit­tle Rock and three in North Lit­tle Rock.

One per­son in­jured in the shoot­ing was taken to Con­way Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter, ac­cord­ing to Metropoli­tan Emer­gency Med­i­cal Ser­vices of Lit­tle Rock.

“By the grace of God,” Stodola said, “all the vic­tims are ex­pected to sur­vive.”

FROM CLUB TO ‘WAR ZONE’

Melvin Smith, 25, said he was sit­ting near the stage at Power Ul­tra Lounge when two men started shoot­ing at other men.

He said it looked “like an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt.”

“They just started shoot­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously and then re­turn shots was fired,” said Smith, adding that two of his friends were shot be­low the waist. “Then some more peo­ple went and got more guns and came back and there was more shoot­ing out­side. It was just a war zone.”

He said vic­tims were “lay­ing on the floor and beg­ging for help,” but no one stopped to as­sist them. Smith said he saw peo­ple try to open the win­dows on the sec­ond-floor venue to es­cape the gun­fire.

“Peo­ple were push­ing each other down, trip­ping, just try­ing to get out,” he said.

Smith’s mother, Kaneisha Farr, 46, was in the club when the gun­fire be­gan.

“Blood was ev­ery­where,” she said. “Peo­ple was lay­ing on the floor. I was try­ing to make sure me and my kids was OK.”

A video posted on Facebook early Satur­day ap­pears to show the be­gin­ning of the shoot­ing. The cell­phone footage shows Fi­nesse 2Tymes and other per­form­ers on­stage when a vol­ley of gun­fire be­gins. The screen goes dark, and peo­ple are heard scream­ing. One woman can be heard yelling, “Go! Go!”

The screen re­mains dark as the shots con­tinue.

Eack­les said se­cu­rity guards con­ducted pat-down searches at the club’s en­trance but did not check IDs. He said he did not see any fights or ar­gu­ments in the club be­fore the shoot­ing. Once the gun­fire started, he didn’t look to see who was do­ing the shoot­ing.

“I was fo­cused on not dy­ing,” Eack­les said. “Just try­ing to get out.”

Ty­rone Jack­son, 44, said the shooter ap­peared to be in­dis­crim­i­nately fir­ing at peo­ple who laid on the club’s floor.

Jack­son, who watched the con­cert from the VIP area, said he first heard the gun­fire as Fi­nesse 2Tymes per­formed. He es­ti­mated he was 15 feet away from a shooter, whom he de­scribed as a man with short dread­locks and wear­ing a white T-shirt and blue shorts.

At one point, the gun­fire paused and the man left the room. When peo­ple be­gan to stand up, he re­turned.

“I thought I told you m ************ to get down,” the man shouted.

He then fired sev­eral more rounds.

“He was shoot­ing at them while they were on the ground,” Jack­son said. “They were lay­ing down, and he was shoot­ing at them.”

LEAD­ERS RE­ACT

Among elected of­fi­cials con­demn­ing the shoot­ing Satur­day was Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchin­son, who ex­pressed con­cern over the in­crease in vi­o­lent crime in Lit­tle Rock.

“Lit­tle Rock’s crime prob­lem seems to be in­ten­si­fy­ing,” Hutchin­son said in a state­ment Satur­day. “Ev­ery few days it seems a high-profile shoot­ing dom­i­nates the news, cul­mi­nat­ing with this morn­ing’s events. I have spo­ken this morn­ing with Mayor Stodola and I have of­fered both my heart­felt con­cern over this sense­less vi­o­lent tragedy and state as­sets as needed to ad­dress the con­tin­ued threat of vi­o­lence in our com­mu­nity.”

For­mer Ari­zona Con­gress­man Gabrielle Gif­fords, who was shot and crit­i­cally in­jured at a meet­ing with con­stituents in 2011, said in a state­ment that the shoot­ing was “dev­as­tat­ing.”

She also con­demned a shoot­ing Fri­day that left two peo­ple dead and six in­jured at Bronx-Le­banon Hos­pi­tal Cen­ter in New York on Fri­day.

“The rate of gun vi­o­lence in our na­tion is un­ac­cept­able, and so­lu­tions to make our com­mu­ni­ties safer are pos­si­ble,” Gif­fords said. “It’s time to stand to­gether in sup­port of an ac­tion that will make hor­rific events like th­ese less likely in the fu­ture.”

U.S. Sen. John Booz­man, R-Ark., also is­sued a state­ment.

“Cathy and I send our prayers to the vic­tims of this tragic vi­o­lence,” the state­ment read. “I con­tinue to stand and sup­port law en­force­ment to fight this on­go­ing reck­less vi­o­lence in our cap­i­tal city.”

Arkansas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Les­lie Rut­ledge said in a state­ment that she was grate­ful for the first re­spon­ders who saved mul­ti­ple lives Satur­day.

“To­day, we all awoke to the tragic news that this sense­less act of vi­o­lence oc­curred right in the heart of our cap­i­tal city,” she said. “As state and com­mu­nity lead­ers, it is out re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­cour­age a civil, peace­ful dis­course and that vi­o­lence can never be the so­lu­tion to solve our dif­fer­ences.”

RIS­ING VI­O­LENCE

Satur­day’s shoot­ing is the lat­est in a surge of vi­o­lent crime in Lit­tle Rock that has frus­trated po­lice and com­mu­nity lead­ers.

There had been 1,386 in­ci­dents of vi­o­lent crime — homi­cide, rob­bery, rape and ag­gra­vated as­sault — this year in the city as of Mon­day, up 24 per­cent from what po­lice re­ported through the same date in 2016, ac­cord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary data.

Po­lice have linked many of the in­ci­dents to feud­ing gangs whose hos­til­ity deep­ened in late 2016 af­ter the fa­tal shoot­ing of a 2-year-old girl, Ramiya Reed. The tod­dler was rid­ing in the back seat of a car with her mother when she was struck by gun­fire. Po­lice be­lieve Ramiya was not the shooter’s in­tended tar­get.

Buck­ner said po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether Satur­day’s shoot­ing is con­nected to the city’s rise in vi­o­lence.

Other crimes not con­nected to that case, such as the killing of 3-year-old Acen King in De­cem­ber, have made head­lines around the world. Acen was fa­tally shot in his grand­mother’s car in what po­lice de­scribed as an act of “road rage.”

The Po­lice Depart­ment has in­creased pa­trols in cer­tain ar­eas of the city and in­ten­si­fied its com­mu­nity out­reach ef­forts as part of a cam­paign to stem the in­crease in vi­o­lent crime. Ad­di­tion­ally, in Fe­bru­ary po­lice loos­ened re­stric­tions on po­lice chases. Buck­ner said some crim­i­nals in the city had be­come “em­bold­ened” be­cause they don’t be­lieve of­fi­cers would pur­sue them.

The depart­ment also par­tic­i­pates in a U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice pro­gram, the Vi­o­lence Re­duc­tion Net­work, that pro­vides po­lice with ad­vanced train­ing and fed­eral re­sources in cities with high lev­els of vi­o­lent crime.

Po­lice have made ar­rests in Ramiya’s killing and nu­mer­ous other crimes that they be­lieve are con­nected to her death, but the depart­ment has re­ceived lit­tle co­op­er­a­tion from wit­nesses and vic­tims in many other cases.

On Thurs­day, an 18-yearold man was shot mul­ti­ple times as he drove on Colonel Glenn Road. A 7-year-old boy was in­jured in a drive-by shoot­ing Tues­day in the 1100 block of Wash­ing­ton Street. Three days be­fore that, two peo­ple were in­jured in a driveby shoot­ing in the 4500 block of Mont­clair Av­enue.

In ad­di­tion to those shoot­ings, po­lice have in­ves­ti­gated a least a dozen re­ports of gun­fire that have dam­aged homes, busi­nesses and ve­hi­cles over the past 10 days.

Benny John­son, founder and pres­i­dent of the anti-vi­o­lence group Arkansas Stop the Vi­o­lence, called on po­lice and elected of­fi­cials to do more to ad­dress the blood­shed in Lit­tle Rock.

“The city has been out of con­trol for a long time,” he said Satur­day. “We think ev­ery shoot­ing should be treated [with the same ur­gency] as it was to­day.”

TREAT­ING THE IN­JURED

Lit­tle Rock po­lice and am­bu­lance of­fi­cials said med­i­cal kits is­sued to po­lice of­fi­cers in 2015 played a vi­tal role in treat­ing Satur­day’s in­jured.

In 2015, the Po­lice Depart­ment equipped each of its more than 500 of­fi­cers with emer­gency med­i­cal kits known as blowout packs. Each kit con­tains a tourni­quet, hemo­static gauze, ban­dages, pres­sure bandage, gloves and two chest seals.

Lit­tle Rock po­lice ac­quired the med­i­cal kits, which cost about $89 apiece, through a grant from the Arkansas Trauma Sys­tem.

The city’s am­bu­lance ser­vice, Metropoli­tan Emer­gency Med­i­cal Ser­vices of Lit­tle Rock, trained the depart­ment to use the packs, and iden­tify and treat trau­matic in­juries, such as gun­shot wounds.

The only med­i­cal train­ing Lit­tle Rock po­lice re­ceived pre­vi­ously was CPR.

MEMS di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions Greg Thompson said Satur­day that of­fi­cers treated sev­eral peo­ple in­jured in the shoot­ing be­fore medics ar­rived. He said five tourni­quets and one chest seal were used.

“A few years ago we never would have seen any­thing like that,” Thompson said. “I be­lieve their ac­tions had a very pos­i­tive im­pact on the out­come of this event.”

Buck­ner said he “could not be prouder” of the of­fi­cers who re­sponded to the shoot­ing.

One of the first cases of Lit­tle Rock po­lice us­ing the packs was a shoot­ing out­side Power Ul­tra Lounge in Septem­ber 2015. A 32-year-old man, who wit­nesses said was drunk and had been loi­ter­ing out­side the club, was shot in the chest in a dis­tur­bance with some­one in a sport util­ity ve­hi­cle.

Of­fi­cers treated the man at the scene be­fore medics ar­rived. He sur­vived.

Dr. Bill Beck was the on­call sur­geon Satur­day at UAMS Med­i­cal Cen­ter when medics trans­ported in 11 pa­tients, of­fi­cials said. Beck said he and his col­leagues could not re­mem­ber a time when so many vic­tims came from one in­ci­dent.

Beck praised the work of emer­gency re­spon­ders from po­lice to medics.

“This is cer­tainly some­thing that peo­ple pre­pare for in Lit­tle Rock,” he said, “but it’s some­thing that is not com­mon.”

NIGHT­CLUB SHUT­TERED

Lit­tle Rock of­fi­cials said the city will file a law­suit in cir­cuit court to com­pel Power Ul­tra Lounge to be closed. The city has a crim­i­nal abate­ment pro­gram that tar­gets prop­er­ties that po­lice fre­quently re­spond to be­cause of crim­i­nal com­plaints.

“We will be shut­ting this lo­ca­tion down, ab­so­lutely,” Stodola said.

Lit­tle Rock also will re­view its rules for pri­vate clubs and spe­cial events, Stodola and City Man­ager Bruce Moore said.

Power Ul­tra Lounge, li­censed with the state as a res­tau­rant, is sup­posed to stop serv­ing al­co­hol at 2 a.m., about a half-hour be­fore the shoot­ing was re­ported, ac­cord­ing to Stodola.

Arkansas Al­co­holic Bev­er­age Con­trol took emer­gency ac­tion af­ter the shoot­ing Satur­day and sus­pended Power Ul­tra Club’s “res­tau­rant mixed drink max­i­mum” per­mit.

Ac­cord­ing to the agency’s or­der, the club had three “Class A” vi­o­la­tions: fail­ing to be a good neigh­bor, al­low­ing the pos­ses­sion of weapons on the premises and dis­or­derly con­duct.

The state’s Depart­ment of Fi­nance and Ad­min­is­tra­tion-Al­co­holic Bev­er­age Con­trol En­force­ment is in­ves­ti­gat­ing and may is­sue ad­di­tional ci­ta­tions.

“We will ex­er­cise the au­thor­ity granted us un­der the law to pre­serve and safe­guard the public safety,” said Mary Robin Cas­teel, di­rec­tor of Al­co­holic Bev­er­age Con­trol. “We feel the events which are al­leged to have oc­curred war­rant our de­ci­sion to sus­pend liquor sales at this lo­ca­tion pend­ing fur­ther ac­tion by the board.”

Bev­er­age Con­trol has sus­pended the club’s per­mit 11 times for fail­ure to pay ap­pro­pri­ate sales taxes, said Jake Bleed, spokesman for the Depart­ment of Fi­nance and Ad­min­is­tra­tion, which over­sees Bev­er­age Con­trol. The agency also has taken “en­force­ment ac­tion” seven times since 2012 re­gard­ing mul­ti­ple of­fenses at the club, he said, adding that his of­fice will pro­vide the club’s full file af­ter the week­end.

Herman Lewis, who owns the night­club, holds the al­co­hol-serv­ing per­mit. Ef­forts to reach him for com­ment Satur­day were not suc­cess­ful. A woman who iden­ti­fied her­self as his mother said in a phone call that Lewis was “shook up” from the shoot­ing and did not want to speak to a re­porter.

Lewis is the reg­is­tered agent for two lounges in Lit­tle Rock, ac­cord­ing to the Arkansas sec­re­tary of state web­site.

One of the lounges — Power Bar and Grill LLC at 900 Russen­berger Road in Lit­tle Rock — has lost its li­cense.

The other — Power Kitchen & Bar Inc. — has a listed ad­dress of 220 W. Sixth St., the site of Satur­day’s shoot­ing. It’s listed as a non­profit cor­po­ra­tion in “good stand­ing” on the sec­re­tary of state web­site.

On June 2, Lewis was sued by Auto-Chlor Sys­tem of the Mid South for fail­ing to pay for leased dish­wash­ing equip­ment at the lounge. The civil com­plaint, which is in Pu­laski County Dis­trict Court, al­leges that Lewis owes $7,350.

Lewis has had pre­vi­ous le­gal prob­lems with the city of Lit­tle Rock.

In 2010, the city closed his event cen­ter, Stu­dio Indigo at 5919 W. 12th St., for not hav­ing a busi­ness li­cense. The city al­leged that Lewis was im­prop­erly op­er­at­ing a night­club. He ar­gued that he wasn’t op­er­at­ing a night­club, if he didn’t charge ad­mis­sion or for al­co­holic drinks.

Lewis was sued by the Arkansas Depart­ment of La­bor in Novem­ber 2015. He failed to ap­pear, so a dis­trict judge found in fa­vor of the La­bor Depart­ment, or­der­ing Lewis to pay $3,600. De­tails about the suit were un­clear.

Buck­ner said Satur­day that po­lice had re­ceived nu­mer­ous com­plaints about drug ac­tiv­ity at Power Ul­tra Lounge. He said vice de­tec­tives went to the club about 12:30 a.m. Satur­day to make a rou­tine check but made no ar­rests.

It was quiet later Satur­day morn­ing along the block where the shoot­ing oc­curred as po­lice in­ves­ti­gated the scene. Cu­ri­ous neigh­bors peeked out of win­dows, and morn­ing walk­ers and jog­gers stopped to look at the bro­ken win­dows and de­bris scat­tered in front of the lounge.

Crime scene tech­ni­cians en­tered and left the club car­ry­ing ev­i­dence bags. Up­stairs a strobe light and pro­jec­tion screen was still il­lu­mi­nated and could be seen through the build­ing’s busted win­dows.

Sev­eral neigh­bors who live in apart­ments across the street said they were sad­dened by the shoot­ing but not sur­prised. They said they reg­u­larly call po­lice be­cause of com­mo­tions com­ing from the club. Each week­end, they said, loud mu­sic and fights break out in the park­ing lot.

Res­i­dents de­clined to give their names, fear­ing ret­ri­bu­tion.

“This was bound to hap­pen,” one res­i­dent said. “It was only a mat­ter of time.”

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/STATON BREIDENTHAL

A Lit­tle Rock po­lice team col­lects ev­i­dence Satur­day out­side the Power Ul­tra Lounge in the city’s down­town, where gun­fire around 2:30 a.m. in­jured more than two dozen peo­ple. A wit­ness said some peo­ple broke win­dows on the sec­ond floor of the venue to try to es­cape.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/STATON BREIDENTHAL

Three men who de­clined to give their names stand Satur­day morn­ing in the park­ing lot across from the Power Ul­tra Lounge at 220 W. Sixth St. They said they were not at the club when shots were fired.

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