Atlanta leaders mulling strategy after rash of nightclub shootings

An Atlanta police patrol car drives by Traffik Kitchen and Cocktails nightclub Jan. 28 after two people were shot multiple times on the busy Midtown Atlanta block. The shooting was one of seven to plague the city's nightlife industry in the past two weeks. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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An Atlanta police patrol car drives by Traffik Kitchen and Cocktails nightclub Jan. 28 after two people were shot multiple times on the busy Midtown Atlanta block. The shooting was one of seven to plague the city's nightlife industry in the past two weeks. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Latest incident at downtown hookah bar kills security guard

Early Wednesday morning, an argument outside a downtown Atlanta bar ended in gunfire.

When the shooting stopped, 28-year-old security guard Tyshon Ross lay fatally wounded on the pavement. It was the seventh time in two weeks the same scenario has played out on or near the property of an Atlanta nightlife business, to varying degrees of severity. Three people have died, and eight have been injured in shootings since Jan. 22.

The shooting Wednesday took Atlanta police to the Encore Hookah Bar and Bistro on Luckie Street shortly after midnight. Ross was shot at least once and taken to Grady Memorial Hospital, where he died. He was identified Wednesday afternoon by the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Last week, shootings were reported on Peachtree Road in the busy Buckhead nightlife district, at the now-shuttered Morningside restaurant Loca Luna, outside the Chic Restaurant and Lounge downtown, in the parking lot of the Collier Heights strip club Blue Flame Lounge, steps from Traffik Kitchen and Bar in Midtown, and at the Pregame Bar and Grill in Vine City.

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In some instances, no one was reported injured. Shootings at the Blue Flame and Pregame claimed the lives of Dishawn Herndon, a 21-year-old man from California, and 20-year-old Zyquan Lee, respectively.

The rash of club shootings is concerning to city leaders who say more should be done to curb gun violence, but the issue is a complicated one. Any solution would require collaboration among police, city offices and business owners, to say nothing of those who choose to solve disputes with guns, said Chata Spikes, public affairs director for the Atlanta Police Department.

Atlanta City Councilmember Dustin Hillis is calling for action against the Blue Flame, which he said has a long history of gun violence and nuisance issues. The District 9 representative said he asked police to look into suspending the club’s liquor license, and he also requested the city solicitor’s office to open its own investigation into whether the property should be deemed a nuisance.

“While this violence is unacceptable in any part of our city and must be addressed, clubs and lounges see an inordinate amount of gun-related crime and must be addressed using the tools our city already has at its disposal,” Hillis said in a statement last week.

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Byron Amos, the District 3 councilmember over Vine City, said he was not aware of any problems at Pregame before Saturday’s deadly shooting, which also injured three people. Crime along the Martin Luther King Jr. corridor is usually the result of people loitering, Amos said, and he was shocked to learn the shooting happened inside the bar.

Recognizing resources within the police department are strapped, Amos and business owners in the corridor’s merchants’ association are in talks to create their own security force to patrol the strip. The force would be comprised of mainly off-duty Atlanta police officers, Amos told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“We live in a world in which gun violence has become so prevalent,” he said, noting the 6-month-old boy killed in his district last week. “It will be difficult to police a parking lot with so many people having weapons in their cars, but the presence of law enforcement in a community will stop a lot of it. We must begin to look at what we’re doing around alcohol-selling establishments.”

Amos said he is also interested in changing the way businesses apply for liquor licenses in the city. He would like to require those businesses to submit security plans with their applications and yearly requests for renewal, similar to the process already in place in Chamblee.

“When it comes to nightclubs and alcohol-selling establishments, we must take security seriously,” Amos said. “That includes inside and outside of the business. The parking lot is an extension of your building, of the business itself.”

The responsibility to reduce crime can’t fall solely on APD, which is limited to investigation and enforcement, Spikes said. There is still a burden on businesses to protect their patrons, and on the city solicitor to shut down establishments that are repeat offenders.

“We’re in a position where we are doing our job and officers are responding, but people have to understand we do one aspect, and then the court has to do theirs,” Spikes said.

The police department is compiling data on the recent nightclub shootings to develop a plan and present it to the mayor’s office, she said.

It was not clear if Encore, the site of Wednesday’s shooting, was listed among the city’s nuisance properties, but Spikes said police have responded to multiple incidents there. The Office of the City Solicitor does not comment on ongoing litigation as it pertains to nuisance cases, according to a spokesperson.

Habif Properties, the group that manages the Luckie Street property, confirmed they are in eviction proceedings with the hookah bar’s owner.

According to police Lt. Ralph Woolkfolk, Encore staff asked Ross to remove the shooter from the bar, and the two got into a fight outside prior to the shooting. Investigators don’t know why he was booted from the business, Woolfolk told Channel 2 Action News from the scene.

Police have released photos of a suspect, but he had not been identified Wednesday.

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The man shown in this image is a suspect in a homicide Wednesday morning at the Encore Hookah Bar and Bistro in downtown Atlanta. Anyone with information on his identity is asked to contact police.

Credit: Atlanta Police Department

The man shown in this image is a suspect in a homicide Wednesday morning at the Encore Hookah Bar and Bistro in downtown Atlanta. Anyone with information on his identity is asked to contact police.

Credit: Atlanta Police Department

Combined ShapeCaption
The man shown in this image is a suspect in a homicide Wednesday morning at the Encore Hookah Bar and Bistro in downtown Atlanta. Anyone with information on his identity is asked to contact police.

Credit: Atlanta Police Department

Credit: Atlanta Police Department

The shooting remains under investigation. Anyone with information is asked to contact police. Tipsters can remain anonymous, and be eligible for rewards of up to $2,000, by contacting Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-8477, texting information to 274637 or visiting the Crime Stoppers website.