Witnesses: Argument at Station Street nightclub preceded Chattanooga shooting; owner says fight was avoided

A man and a woman cower behind a stopped car. Revelers standing on the patio of the Blue Light nightclub retreat several feet or drop to the ground. Many stand and look around shocked while figures race toward the apparent sound of gunfire.

Filmed from the Westbound Bar, security footage obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press shows a confused scene Sunday night in the moments after a 1:12 a.m. shooting on Station Street, in the heart of the city's tourism district near the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

The incident left two women with non-life-threatening injuries. It follows a June 5 shooting that left three people dead and 14 injured on McCallie Avenue. Chattanooga police Friday revealed that a large fight on Station Street was part of the timeline that led up to the McCallie Avenue shooting.

According to witnesses who spoke to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, at least one of the women injured in the latest downtown shooting was involved in an altercation at the Blue Light shortly before being shot in a parking lot at 1400 Rossville Ave., several hundred feet away, near Station Street.

Witnesses of the Sunday incident said it began on the patio of the Blue Light, 43 Station St., and continued onto the road, though it is not clear from their accounts if the shooters were part of the original disorder on the patio.

According to Michael Hardin, manager at Westbound at 24 Station St., there was a fight on the patio of the Blue Light across from his business, which involved a woman who was later shot.

"(Blue Light) had a fight on the patio, and one of my security guards said, 'look, look.' We waited to see if they called the cops, which is required by the (Chattanooga Beer & Wrecker Board) code."

No police arrived, he said, and the altercation spilled onto the street near where a food truck was operating.

"That's where the shooting took place," Hardin said. "I saw the girl that got shot. She was one of the people on the patio fighting, pulling hair, having words, and then she was the one on the stretcher getting taken away."

Security footage from approximately 10 minutes before the shooting shows a scrum of people moving around on the Blue Light's patio. A couple drinks are thrown. Several onlookers gather on the side of the street to watch. About a minute later, the scene calms down.

Blue Light owner Brian Joyce has said on many occasions that his club is being singled out for things that happen at many establishments around town and that the Blue Light is a safe place to dance and have a cocktail. He told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in a statement Monday that a fight never occurred on the patio of the Blue Light that evening.

"Chattanooga police are doing the best job they can keeping our streets safe, and I think they deserve our support," he said.

He added that he provided the Chattanooga Police Department three different camera angles of everything that occurred inside and outside his business that night.

"I offered them this footage voluntarily, in case it helps their investigation, and, of course, because my staff and I have nothing to hide," he wrote. "In the video, two patrons appear to get into an argument, it appears one or two of them threw a drink at each other, and both parties were separated with no punches thrown.

"This is the kind of unfortunate disagreement that occurs almost every night in bars around Chattanooga, and all over the world. Fortunately, at the Blue Light, I have a highly trained security staff that recognized the argument immediately, separated the parties and escorted them off the property with no punches thrown or further physical altercation."

Joey Winslett lives near the site of the incident, and as he has become accustomed to in recent months, was walking a female friend to her car because she didn't feel safe making the trek by herself, he said.

"I've lived here two years, and we never had a problem," he said Monday in a telephone interview. "Now I have to walk people to their cars. I carry a gun because I don't feel safe."

He said every weekend, cars filled with young people show up and do burnouts on the street, racing their engines and stopping at the last second before hitting a wall or missing a turn. On Sunday morning, he said, two or four girls walked out in front of a white Dodge Charger, causing the car to abruptly stop.

"I didn't see them burn out, or exactly how many girls there were, but the car had to slam on its brakes, and they threw up hands and maybe a bird (hand gesture) was thrown, and then there were some choice words. The Charger goes into park, and the driver and passenger jump out. I know what's about to happen, so I pushed my friend behind a vehicle, and an older couple, and then - bam bam bam bam."

Winslett, who said he was not interviewed by Chattanooga police, said several other people he knew saw the incident as well, and one of them was too traumatized to go home, so he offered her a place to stay. Walking back, he said, "The shooter was walking right beside us. No one said a word. That was scary."

At 1:30 a.m., the security camera at Westbound Bar shows several police officers on Station Street. A group of roughly half a dozen officers carry a victim down the road. Behind them, strobes from emergency lights splash across the sides of buildings.

Comedy Catch owner Michael Alfano has been in business on Station Street since 2016 and said the street changed in August with the opening of the Blue Light, a late-night dance club and bar. The club has been cited nine times for a variety of violations since December and will appeal the citations in Chancery Court on June 28.

"Before August, it was a tourist-friendly and adult-friendly street, and now it is a nonfriendly environment," he said by phone.

He, like Winslett, said the street now brings in young people who are attracted by the clientele at Blue Light. Some are too young to get in, so they linger outside, he said.

Winslett said, "They can't get in to the Blue Light, so they sit in their cars with the radio very loud and do burnouts."

Alfano said it is an ongoing problem, "but I do believe the new police (chief, Celeste Murphy) is trying to do the right thing. There were police officers on the street, just on the other end of the street. But people are brazen. Way too brazen."

"I think she's going to do good things, and she takes it seriously, and I really believe that. She all about let's get out and let's be police."

Police said Sunday that officers, who were in the area as part of the department's "focused deterrence" initiative, overheard a loud argument from a parking lot near Station Street. As they approached, gunfire broke out, and officers located two people suffering from non-life-threatening gunshot wounds.

Both victims are women. One is 29, and the other is 30. They were taken to a local hospital. No suspects were arrested during the incident, and officers are investigating.

Police spokeswoman Jerri Sutton said officers were unable to get through the crowd in time to apprehend a suspect. Investigators are still working with witnesses, victims and the evidence they've gathered to make an arrest, Sutton said, but they are not ready to release any of that information.

Asked if she was aware of an altercation at the Blue Light before the shooting, Sutton said she could neither confirm nor deny the incident.

"I haven't been informed by the investigator," she said. "All I can tell you is what we encountered in the parking lot at the time when the shots were fired."

Sutton added that she hasn't been made aware of any incidents involving racing in that area. Right now, Sutton said, investigators are prioritizing arrests in the shooting, but the department will evaluate other security concerns after it makes progress in the case.

"That's the primary focus right now: Identifying all the players involved and taking any necessary law enforcement action against those individuals," Sutton said. "Then we'll look into other violations, other means of security that can be enforced, any other contributing factors that led into this incident."

Sutton added that Chattanooga officers, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and the Tennessee Highway Patrol are cooperating on the city's focused deterrence initiative, which involves targeting parts of the city where law enforcement officers target a high number of specific crimes. They're also deploying officers at large events.

Sutton said Chattanooga law enforcement is trying to prevent violence while also interrupting any situations that may occur.

"Obviously, that is going to take time because there are just multiple areas of the city that need to be monitored where people congregate - not necessarily a business or a specific group, but where we know people congregate and there's a potential for violence," she said.

On Sunday, there were more officers on Station Street, Sutton said, because it is both heavily trafficked and there has been enough crime in that area.

In the June 5 shooting, shortly after 2:30 a.m., police believe multiple shooters opened fire on McCallie Avenue in front of Mary's Bar & Grill. The bar's owners have told city officials the people gathered in front of their establishment came from elsewhere.

Police on Friday released a timeline of the McCallie Avenue shooting that said it was preceded by "a large fight on Station Street" at 1:42 a.m.

In addition to the gunfire on McCallie Avenue, several people were injured as a car attempted to leave the scene. In all, three people were killed: Darian Hixson, 24, Myrakle Moss, 25, and Kevin Brown, 34. A total of 14 people were injured in the incident.

Police have since arrested three men in connection with the shooting. Garrian King, 28, was arrested June 9 and charged with possessing a firearm as a felon. Alexis Lewis, 36, was arrested June 13 and charged with criminal homicide, reckless endangerment and possession of a firearm during the commission or attempt to commit a dangerous felony. Rodney Harris was charged June 14 with possession of a firearm as a felon.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354. Follow him on Twitter @BarryJC.

Contact David Floyd at dfloyd@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @flavid_doyd.