‘Senseless’: Customer killed in Manuel’s Tavern shooting was father of 5

Manuel's Tavern, a Poncey-Highland bar that has been an Atlanta institution since 1956, was the site of a fatal shooting Thursday night.

Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

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Manuel's Tavern, a Poncey-Highland bar that has been an Atlanta institution since 1956, was the site of a fatal shooting Thursday night.

Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

Brian Maloof sat on the patio of his legendary Poncey-Highland pub Friday afternoon, just yards away from the parking lot where a man lost his life hours earlier.

“It’s just senseless,” said Maloof, the owner of Manuel’s Tavern. “This is the first time something like this has happened here. I can’t think of anything that comes close.”

The cozy North Highland Avenue watering hole is an Atlanta institution, frequented by neighborhood regulars and politicians since it opened its doors in 1956. But it became the latest Atlanta crime scene Thursday night.

Dean Phillips was leaving Manuel’s after hanging out with friends when he saw a man attempting to break into cars, according to friends and witnesses. Phillips confronted the man he saw pulling on door handles and looking into windows. That man then shot Phillips once in the chest, leaving him to die in the parking lot as patrons looked on in horror.

On Friday, Maloof and his employees struggled to understand why the 54-year-old was killed. Family and friends grieved the married father of five who also ran his own nonprofit organization. The family is asking anyone who wants to support them to make a donation to the organization, the Was And Now Foundation, Inc. The foundation provides beds, pillows and blankets to children in need.

Credit: Contributed / Family Photo

Credit: Contributed / Family Photo

The incident was reported shortly after 11 p.m., authorities said. Maloof, who was not working at the time, said the fatal shooting was witnessed by as many as 15 people sitting outside the pub.

He said what shocked him most was how brazen it was. The parking lot was “lit up like a football stadium.”

Phillips first yelled at the gunman in the parking lot before asking customers to call police and report someone “breaking into cars,” Maloof said. Phillips was shot during a scuffle, according to witnesses, then the gunman jumped into a waiting car and fled the scene.

Two bartenders, one a U.S. Army veteran with first aid training, and a server attempted to stop the bleeding and started CPR in the parking lot. Phillips was pronounced dead at the scene by EMS, according to Atlanta police.

He and his wife would have celebrated their 23rd wedding anniversary Sunday, his friends said. The couple had recently returned from a cruise to the Bahamas with friends.

Maloof said the bar has seen its share of car break-ins in the past, but it was not an ongoing problem. The outdoor seating had been added during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure social distancing among guests.

The neighborhood is typically safe and a security guard wasn’t needed before, but Maloof said there is nothing they won’t consider going forward.

Friday’s lunch rush was noticeably slower than usual, presumably because regulars had heard about the shooting from the night before, he said. The owner described the mood among his employees as somber and said his focus now is on their safety.

“It’s like it happened in their home,” he said. “My daughter works here. My wife works here. It’s very disturbing to me as well.”

Investigators spoke with witnesses late Thursday, reviewed the bar’s surveillance footage and dusted surrounding cars for fingerprints. Patrons described the suspects’ vehicle as a silver coupe, but Maloof wasn’t optimistic his cameras captured the car’s tag number.

Friends of Phillips turned to social media to post tributes and express their shock over his death. He had served with the nonprofit called The Stewart Foundation, an Atlanta-based youth leadership program.

Phillips also was the founder of the Was and Now Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing beds for those in underprivileged communities.

“Every child deserves a bed,” the foundation’s website states. “It is a human basic need.”

On Friday, funeral arrangements were pending for Phillips. No suspects were publicly identified in the shooting, which remained under investigation.

It was the second fatal shooting in northeast Atlanta that police investigated within the span of two hours, and the third across the city Thursday. Police do not believe the three homicides are related.

Another man was shot and killed at a strip mall along Joseph E. Boone Boulevard shortly after 3:30 p.m., police said. Before the end of the day, police arrested 49-year-old Terrence Heard on charges of murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

Hours later, at about 9:15 p.m., a gunshot victim was discovered near a Wendy’s on Boulevard in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. That victim was found in an alleyway shot in the back of the head, police told Channel 2 Action News.

The circumstances surrounding his death remain under investigation, and his name was not released. No suspect was publicly identified in that case.

The killings bring the city’s homicide count to 135 for the year, up from 133 at this point in 2021.

Anyone with information on any of Thursday’s homicides is asked to contact Atlanta 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.