POLL: Are you worried that downtown Chattanooga is unsafe?
The Southside Social remains closed after a woman was fatally shot near the location in an apparent drive-by, and now its owner said he wants city officials to step up safety and security efforts in the area.
In addition to the restaurant/bar, Chattanooga developer John Wise owns a number of properties around the city, including a nearby apartment building set to open in the next two to three months. He said he's made significant investments in the area and ongoing violence threatens the burgeoning business district along Chestnut Street near Finley Stadium.
"This is a major issue for me. Major," he told the Times Free Press on Monday. "I cannot have this kind of stuff going on, and the city's going to have to get involved and help monitor it or a guy like me is going to quit developing over there.
"Three of the largest apartment developments in the city going on are on Chestnut Street. You would think that the city would want to get involved and help manage that," he added. "Just the property taxes on my [apartment] building alone would pay for a full-time police officer, two of them, year-round, to do nothing but patrol that street."
Friends share memories, heartache after woman gunned down outside Southside SocialRead more
The victims in Sunday's shooting — 21-year-old Cachet Peterson and 24-year-old Tiana Linares — were traveling north on Chestnut outside Southside Social just before 1:30 a.m. when they were shot by someone in another car traveling in the opposite direction, according to Chattanooga police. Both women were taken to a local hospital, where Peterson died a short time later.
Police have not identified a motive for the shooting and the investigation is ongoing.
Patrons exiting Southside Social at the time of the incident told police the shooter was in a dark vehicle and Wise said surveillance footage from his property captured video of the car. He said the shooter arrived 10 minutes before the shooting, parked in a lot across the street and waited with the headlights off until the targets were spotted. The shooter turned onto the street and drove toward the women, firing multiple rounds before speeding off.
In the meantime, Wise said the doors to Southside Social will remain closed while he explores options to boost security. He said he will be looking at closing at midnight, adding exterior lighting, and asking the police department to put a marked patrol car in front of the business at times.
"The primary change is we're going to try to implement, hopefully with the city, as well, some surveillance of the perimeter — even properties that aren't ours, but adjacent parking lots. We think that's where some of the problem's coming from," he said. "We suspect they might be loitering around our business and not actually coming into our business — some of the troublemakers."
"We care about our customers and we're trying to protect them and we're doing that by trying to keep out the same people they don't want in there. They don't want anybody that's a troublemaker in there, i.e. gang members, so we're trying to deal with that and that's a very difficult thing to do," he said.
No arrests have been made in connection to the shooting, but investigators with the Chattanooga Police Department are "working around the clock" to find the people responsible, according to Elisa Myzal, spokeswoman for the Chattanooga Police Department.
"We encourage anyone who saw or heard something that may be helpful to please call the Homicide Tip Line at 423-643-5100. Even the smallest bit of information, which may seem insignificant, might help with the investigation. Callers can remain anonymous and all tips go directly to investigators," she wrote in an emailed statement.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke also took to Twitter on Monday afternoon to address the shooting, expressing his sympathies for Peterson's family and saying her death underscored the need to focus on stopping gun violence in Chattanooga.
Police still looking for homicide suspect in Southside Social drive-by shootingRead more
"Looking forward, I believe that a coordinated, well-funded, and proactive strategy will be essential to preventing future tragic incidents like this one. We of course treat these incidents extremely seriously," he tweeted.
"I will continue to work with the Chattanooga City Council, state lawmakers, local law enforcement agencies, and all of our community partners to implement the policies and policing techniques that reduce fatalities and ensure the safety and peace of mind of all Chattanoogans," he added.
Sunday's shooting is not the first to occur outside a popular bar in Chattanooga recently. Sharone Porter, 22, was shot and killed near Coyote Jack's nightclub on the 1400 block of Cowart Street in December.
Investigators said evidence suggested that incident began as an argument involving Porter and his brother Torrie Porter, 24, who was also injured in the shooting. Victor Miller, homicide division supervisor for the Chattanooga Police Department, said there was reason to believe a fight carried over from the nightclub to a nearby parking lot where the shooting occurred.
One witness said the incident began with an argument inside the club between Sharone Porter's brother, 24-year-old Torrie Porter, and several other men, one of whom was Roddarius Martin, 24, according to court records.
The fight continued outside, where Martin fired several rounds into the air before shooting the brothers. Torrie Porter was shot in the leg, but another witness said Sharone Porter tried to stop Martin and was fatally shot in the attempt.
Police arrested Martin the next day, charging him with criminal homicide, attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault and felony reckless endangerment. That shooting was only the most recent violent incident to take place near the nightclub over the last two years.
The Times Free Press previously reported that Coyote Jack's, formerly known as Bella Vita, was the site of two shootings when it was that business — one of which was fatal — in 2016. It had the same owners: Ronnie Berke and Tammie Taylor. Berke is a local attorney and uncle of Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke.
On March 13, 2016, 35-year-old Reuben Simpson was shot in the head in the early morning on Cowart Street, near the restaurant. Police said his wounds were considered minor. Two months later, 40-year-old Johnny Sanders, a security guard, was fatally shot in the upper chest at the location. Andrew Wilson, 31, was arrested and charged with criminal homicide.
Southside Social had its own safety scare in July 2016 when multiple people posted to social media about an apparent altercation and drive-by shooting at the location. Chattanooga police were called to investigate reports of gunfire, but found no shell casings or property damage.
The safety of employees and patrons has been a concern for owners who put out a release about a dress code for the business in February of last year. It was met with an instant backlash from residents and the city councilman who represented the district at the time.
Multiple people took to social media, stating the dress code unfairly targeted minority groups. The revamped policy specifically prohibited patrons from wearing hooded sweatshirts, shorts below the knees, plain white T-shirts, backward baseball caps, visors, skull caps and do-rags.
The business posted an apology about the release later that week.
"... We may have been overzealous in redefining our dress code. However, at the time, we felt that the atmosphere in our establishment had the possibility of becoming unsafe for our guests," wrote Rick Dillard, Southside Social's general manager, on Facebook.
"Again, we apologize for offending anyone — we only want to ensure a safe, fun and secure environment."
Wise said a dress code has always been in effect at Southside Social and will continue to be enforced. He said a dress code is one of the only tools a business has to monitor its clientele and it might be time to change it in order to clamp down and try to guarantee the safety of their employees and patrons.
"We're very concerned about that kind of thing going on in the community, period," he said. "We certainly don't like it happening anywhere near our businesses that we're trying to operate."
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.