Some Durham community members are coming to the defense of a nightclub and its owner after a recent shooting.
The early morning shooting Jan. 28 in the parking lot of the Lakewood shopping center left one person dead and two injured.
It elevated concerns about the Emerald City Ultra Bar and Lounge in the shopping center on Chapel Hill Road, which includes a Dollar General, a Food Lion and The Scrap Exchange. Some residents had already emailed the city about the club’s loud bass thumping in their homes blocks away and erratic driving when the club closed.
Durham police officers appear to have begun working with state officials to get the club shut down.
But now some community members are defending the club and owner Derrick Bridges.
“He’s a really good man,” community organizer Nia Wilson and others said.
Bridges holds fundraisers for local groups, has bought people meals, paid their bills and helped pay for funerals. He’s tried to mediate conflicts.
“Something that happened in the parking lot has nothing to do with him or his club,” Wilson said.
The area in and around Lakewood is changing, with two new eateries and one new coffee shop opening soon. Bridges, who opened the club in September 2015, has both supporters and critics in the area.
But Wilson said people are passing judgment without knowing all the good things that happen because Emerald City is there.
Instead of reaching out to the owner, Wilson said, people are contacting the police and the City Council to get the business closed.
“We will resist that because Durham is supposed to be Durham for all,” she said.
Bridges, 50, said his club is safe. He’s hired security officers and tried to hire off-duty police officers, who in some cases have turned him down.
“We’re not here to bring down the community,” he said. “We are here to help build the community by giving back.”
He invited neighbors to visit the club, which holds socials early Sunday evenings, to learn more.
Meeting with police
On Thursday Police Chief C.J. Davis met with Bridges and others to talk about the shooting and a security plan moving forward.
Other people representing various organizations attended to support the business.
The security plan, Davis said, includes working with the shopping center’s owners to move people out of the parking lot faster.
“What happens outside sometimes is not in the control of the night club establishment,” Davis said. “But at the same time some of the individuals that might be a part of what is happening out there may have come out of the club.”
City Councilman Don Moffitt has received emails from three people and a phone call from another outlining concerns about the club. The club is in the Lakewood Park neighborhood, but is surrounded by the Tuscaloosa-Lakewood, Lyon Park and the West End neighborhoods.
Bridges, 50, said when he opened police used to drop by in response to noise complaints. That died down after people realized the business has the right to be in the commercial area, he said.
According to police, there were 15 calls for service in 2016 relating to Emerald City, most of which were noise complaints.
Public documents and police officials’ statements present conflicting reports on what actions the Police Department is taking.
City Council correspondence indicates some Police Department staff are working on a nuisance abatement process through N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement, which enforces alcoholic beverage control laws.
In a Dec. 20 email to police and city officials, Cpl. R.L. Paffel states he is working with an ALE agent who indicated they “had just about enough documentation” about concerns about the club to move to the next level in the process
That includes sending a letter to the shopping center’s owners and the bank that holds its loan “spell(ing) out the intent of the NCALE to sue the owners for the property and seize everything in the problem night club,” the city correspondence states.
“We hope that this will raise the eyebrows of the owners who obviously don’t know anything about the problem night club on their property,” the correspondence states.
Police responded to 15 calls for service in 2016 relating to Emerald City, most of them noise complaints.
If the owners don’t act, future actions could include getting a court order to shut the club down, Paffel’s letter states.
“Lack of cooperation from the club owners has been quite the challenge,” Paffel’s letter states. “ALE Agents go in as undercover regularly to look for violations so immediate action (can be taken) such as fines or opportunities to get the ABC commission to take their alcohol license etc.”
As of Thursday morning, the club had not been cited for any N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control violations.
The Police Department has responded to serious breaches of the peace as well as numerous noise complaints at the club, police spokesman Wil Glenn said in an email. No noise citation has been issued.
The department does not desire to force the closure of any business, Glenn wrote. It prefers to make reasonable attempts to support the property owners and managers in taking other steps to address public safety concerns that may be arising from the premises, he wrote.
“To the extent that the communications portrayed an active pursuit of closure by the city, this was not the department’s intent nor does it represent any current course of action,” Glenn wrote.