The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office is asking some downtown businesses to come up with security plans by month’s end after a string of violent incidents in the downtown corridor over the past couple of months.
The request was made last Friday through a letter given to about 30 businesses, whose primary revenue is through alcohol sales. Chief Deputy Patrick Clayton said the sheriff’s office has considered doing this since the spring.
“We want them to think of the major emergencies they might have to deal with and to have a safety plan in place, so if something does happen, they basically have a road map to get them where they need to be,” Clayton said.
The letter, signed by Sheriff Richard Roundtree, states the sheriff’s office is requesting alcohol consumption establishments to “designate one or more persons as a point of contact” with it regarding security at the establishment. It also requests businesses to hire or designate security personnel and be responsible for the safety of customers leaving willingly or by a security escort.
“We really think this will vastly help us with the incidents downtown,” Clayton said. “We have a great amount of manpower downtown that we are putting during the peak periods of problems.”
There have been two homicides outside downtown nightclubs in 2019. Marlow Jones, 42, was shot and killed outside Studio Neighborhood Bar on Aug. 4 and Sean Musiiwa, 20, was fatally wounded outside Soultry Sounds Ultra Lounge nightclub on July 14. A woman was injured following a fight outside The Scene on Aug. 3.
Clayton said businesses were receptive to the letter.
“It’s just as much their responsibility as it is ours, even more so as a business owner because they have a responsibility to all of their patrons and citizens that come in there,” he said.
Matt Flynn, co-owner of StillWater Taproom on Broad Street, said he was irritated at first that it is assumed all bars downtown have recurring problems with violent behavior. He said, in an email, he is not a fan of having to file a plan with the sheriff’s office because his staff is trained to deal with those situations.
“Our staff has been trained to deal with people, who (rarely) get out of hand, by being polite as possible and gently ushering them out, and only getting police involved if things escalate,” Flynn said.
In the letter, Roundtree said the security plans should be submitted to the sheriff’s office no later than Aug. 30. Clayton did not want to comment on what would happen if a business doesn’t meet the deadline, but is hopeful they won’t have that issue.
“I don’t foresee that as an issue because everybody that we went out and delivered letters to, they were very receptive to it,” he said.
Flynn said he plans to submit a security plan to the sheriff’s office. He feels every business should have one to deal with safety issues and deputies should respond when things get out of hand.
“The cops are there to respond when things get crazy and should be prevalent downtown to send the message that violence will not be tolerated,” he said in the email.
When there is an incident inside a business, the sheriff’s office is encouraging security personnel to “stagger” the release of those involved, instead of just throwing them all out at once. The altercation outside The Scene nightclub started as an argument inside before the fight took place outside.
Clayton added that the sheriff’s office wants to be called immediately if there is an escalating situation.
“Any kind of confrontation, they should try to deal with it, but they should also be immediately calling us,” Clayton said. “We will rather them call and don’t need us than to need us and not have us there.”
He said the initiative will be beneficial not only for police but also for the businesses and their customers.
“We always hope that all of our interventions are going to help. This is one that we do think it’s going to help,” Clayton said. “It helps to get business owners and property owners to share responsibility.
Read the letter