An outdoor “shootout” in a residential area on the west side of Statesboro the night of Sept. 22-23, in which police believe at least five guns were discharged, left one man in the hospital with a gunshot wound through the neck, as well as two women reportedly grazed by bullets and a fourth person with a broken or otherwise injured leg.
Afterward, Statesboro police made one arrest, of a 21-year-old Vidalia man on three felony and two misdemeanor charges, but those charges do not necessarily identify him as having fired the shot that struck the seriously injured man. During the Oct. 3 City Council meeting, Mayor Jonathan McCollar praised the police for their response, calling Chief of Police Mike Broadhead by name.
“I want to commend Chief Broadhead and his team,” McCollar said. “The shooting that occurred on Spruce Street, they responded immediately, and they got involved in a foot chase and literally ran down the guy that had an AR-15 and brought him into custody. That’s why I stand with our Statesboro Police Department. I’m going to support them with whatever they need because they are doing the work to keep our community safe.”
He added that citizens also need to do their part by cooperating with police and letting individuals involved with crime “know that this is not a safe space for (crime)” and that they will be “on their way to jail.”
The mayor’s remarks followed a brief discussion of the Police Department’s ongoing recruitment difficulties, with 17 reported vacancies currently among a city-authorized force of 79 sworn officers. Councilwoman Paulette Chavers, who launched that discussion, praised McCollar for his efforts in explaining the Event Centers Ordinance, enacted by the council Sept. 19, to concerned business owners and members of the public. City officials proposed the ordinance – which requires a license, requires representatives of the center and any contracted event host to be on hand and allows alcohol to be served only by licensed caterers – in an attempt to control for-profit or pop-up drinking parties at places that do not have alcohol licenses.
Councilman Phil Boyum had connected the reasoning behind the new ordinance with the Sept. 23 shooting incident.
“Those are the kind of unregulated parties that get out of control and then somebody shows up with an AR,” Boyum said. “I mean, that’s just not a good look for Statesboro. Fortunately, nobody was killed – again. How many times are we going to say this, mayor? … Statesboro’s been really lucky.”
Councilman John Riggs asked Broadhead for an update on the shooting “on Johnson Street.” Warrants obtained by police state that gunshots were fired in the area of Pine Street, Spruce Street and Spring Street in the hour of 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. Sept. 23, but also that a vehicle on Johnson Street received bullet damage.
“Mayor and council, we had about five independent shooters at that event,” Broadhead reported. “We have not identified the other four. We have shell casings from multiple firearms, and those will be sent for testing as best we can to try to connect them to firearms.
“But generally speaking, without a single eyewitness who was willing to work with us, we think there were as many as somewhere between 300 and 700 people who showed up at this party, and at least five shooters, and we just haven’t got any traction,” he continued.
Police know that people from about four different counties came to the party, which “started in another location and just kind of moved over there,” he told the council. In response to a question from Riggs, Broadhead said the man arrested had one of two rifles apparently involved in the incidents, other shots having come from handguns.
One man charged
Statesboro police initially arrested Shawn Michael Edwards, 21, of an Atlanta Avenue, Vidalia, address on Sept. 23, and he was booked at the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office before 6 a.m., according to an arrest report on file with the Bulloch County Superior Court. But SPD Capt. Jared Akins then obtained warrants Sept. 25 accusing Edwards of three felonies: aggravated assault (party to a crime), first-degree criminal damage to property and possession of a firearm during commission of certain felonies; as well as misdemeanor-level obstruction of officers and reckless conduct.
The warrants identify the gun as a Diamondback .300 “AR-style pistol” and the warrant for the aggravated assault (party to a crime) charge alleges that he fired it “multiple times, in close proximity to a crowd, said incident resulting in the injury by gunfire of three people.”
It also identifies one of the victims, but the “party to a crime” wording means police are asserting that Edwards played a part in the aggravated assault, whether or not he fired the shot that hit a victim. However, the criminal damage to property charge alleges that his shooting his gun resulted in bullet damage to a gray Honda Pilot, owned by a specific person, at a Johnson Street residence.
Edwards remained in the Bulloch County Jail on Thursday, with bond having been denied, according to the online jail book.
Most of the shots fired were actually fired into the air, judging from the fact that so few people were injured in such a large crowd, Broadhead said in an interview.
He told the mayor and council that he had a good report that the man most seriously wounded was recovering and “doing well,” but still at a Savannah hospital as of Tuesday.
Elks Lodge action
The street gathering the night of Sept. 22-23 followed a party at the Elks Lodge on James Street, according to city officials.
As recently as the Sept. 19 council meeting, staff members and the city’s elected officials had discussed the possibility of granting a special exception to allow the lodge to obtain a liquor license. Damaged after a 2019 fire and with rebuilding delayed because of COVID-19, the lodge lost an alcoholic beverage license that had been in place since 1972, officials said. With that, it became subject to new rules regarding zoning and proximity to a church.
On Sept. 23 at 1:16 a.m., a Statesboro police officer arrived at the Elks Lodge in response to reports of vehicles blocking driveways. The officer reported seeing people carrying liquor bottles and waiting to be let in. Walter Taylor, identified as owner of the lodge, reportedly shut down the event a few minutes after police arrived.
On Sept. 27, the officer met with Taylor and served him a citation for allegedly violating a longer-established city ordinance prohibiting the operation of a “brown bag establishment,” in other words, a place that hosts parties where people bring their own alcohol. As of this week no businesses have been cited for violating the new Event Centers Ordinance, and Taylor has applied to license the place as an event center.
Walk against violence
The mayor announced that a “community walk against gun violence” will be held Sunday, Oct. 15, beginning at 3 p.m. at Rev. W.D. Kent Park on West Grady Street and proceeding “through some of the neighborhoods that have had problems” to Luetta Moore Park on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
Then a town hall meeting, open to discussion of any topics of public concern, will be held at Luetta Moore Park, he said.