Witness: Nightclub became a ‘war zone’
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.