Crime & Courts

After-hours venues where shootings occurred aren’t regulated

A memorial has been placed outside an after-hours club at 10th and Cleveland where a woman was shot and killed early Sunday morning near the club.
A memorial has been placed outside an after-hours club at 10th and Cleveland where a woman was shot and killed early Sunday morning near the club. The Wichita Eagle

For the second time in eight months, someone has been killed in a shooting outside one of the Wichita spots where people gather for parties after bars close.

As long as after-hours venues don’t charge for alcohol or host activities that would require a license, they aren’t regulated as clubs or businesses, police and city officials say.

Because the places aren’t licensed and because they come and go, police can’t estimate how many exist, Capt. Doug Nolte said.

Some residents who live near the private motorcycle clubhouse where the latest shooting occurred – in the McAdams neighborhood northeast of downtown – have complained that the after-hours gathering spot brings excessive noise and littering.

But Deborah Johnston, the mother of the latest victim, says she doesn’t blame the motorcycle club for her daughter’s death. Police said 23-year-old Kelsey Shaw was waiting to get into the Phat Azz Bikes Inc. clubhouse at 1002 N. Cleveland about 3:12 a.m. on March 9 when someone stood in the street and fired a gun. Although Shaw was not the target, police say, a bullet hit her in the head.

“It was not their fault what happened outside that place,” Johnston said. Whoever fired the gun is the “only one at fault,” she said. “But we have to forgive him, and we have to pray for him and his family, because nobody wins in this kind of situation.

“I hope that the motorcycle club stays open and that people can go down there and have a good time and nothing like this happens again,” Johnston said.

The club is “heartbroken” over her daughter’s death and has given her more than $3,000 to help pay for funeral expenses, she said.

On Wednesday evening, three days after the shooting, two dozen neighbors, a dozen members of the motorcycle club and a dozen police officers gathered in a circle in the middle of Cleveland to talk things out. Police, who had blocked off the street for the gathering, called it an “impact meeting” – a forum for police to share information about a neighborhood crime and a chance for neighbors to voice their concerns.

Neighbors complained that crowds drawn by the clubhouse have brought littering and unacceptable noise along a revitalized Cleveland.

Across the street from the motorcycle club sits the landmark Dunbar Theater, built in 1941. The theater has been a hub in Wichita’s African-American history and culture.

Motorcycle club members said they try to pick up trash and that they regularly give to charities. The members said the shooting was a tragedy committed by a coward and that it is the kind of violence that could happen anywhere.

When the comments grew heated at the meeting, police tried to calm things. Toward the end of the discussion, police Chief Norman Williams stepped into the circle and stressed the need to find whoever fired the gun.

In mid-July, gunfire broke out about 3:20 a.m. one Sunday at an after-hours “warehouse party” near 11th and Mosley when a rival gang arrived. More than 100 people had gathered at the warehouse and a parking lot outside. Gunfire in the parking lot killed James Gary, 27, and injured four others, two critically. Most of those wounded were not involved in the dispute, police said. The warehouse held an auto-repair shop. The warehouse was being rented out for parties after Old Town clubs closed, police said.

That homicide and the March 9 shooting death remain unsolved.

Police need info

After the latest shooting, Lt. Todd Ojile, head of the homicide unit, gave this account: Fifty to 100 people had gathered inside and outside the motorcycle clubhouse. Two groups had argued in the clubhouse; someone removed them, and the two groups exchanged words outside. It’s not clear whether the disturbance is what caused shots to be fired.

The shooter stood in Ninth Street, just south of the clubhouse building, and fired numerous shots. One of the rounds hit Shaw in the head, and she died a short time later at a hospital. Police don’t know who was targeted, but it was not Shaw, Ojile said.

“We’ve had very little cooperation, and no one’s come forward,” he said.

When the gunfire began, people fled, which has made it difficult for police to talk to witnesses.

“We know there’s people … who saw the shooter,” Ojile said. “We’re asking them to come forward.”

He asked that anyone with information call homicide detectives at 316-268-4181 or Crime Stoppers at 316-267-2111.

Arvella Johnston, 18, Shaw’s cousin, said, “Kelsey (Shaw) didn’t have any problems with anybody.

“Kelsey was a beautiful person. She had a heart of gold. She always told you what was on her mind. She was real.”

Deborah Johnston said her daughter was born and raised in Wichita and graduated from Southeast High School. Shaw was going to graduate from a criminal justice program with National American University in June, her mother said.

The morning her daughter was shot, she said, God “took her home.”

Residents’ complaints

The motorcycle clubhouse sits in a small commercial pocket near Ninth and Cleveland. It is an old neighborhood, but new, tidy houses line Cleveland north of that intersection.

Some of the residents at Wednesday’s meeting complained of loud music and littering, including bottles and condoms, in their driveways and yards. They said such problems hadn’t occurred before the motorcycle club set up down the street.

One resident said that before the club’s arrival, “it’s been peaceful. We could live here.”

Speaking of the shooting, one of the club members responded: “This is about a coward with a gun.” He said similar violence has occurred in Old Town, at convenience stores and at schools.

“This happens everywhere,” he said.

Another club member said the group tries to keep people from congregating outside and tries to pick up litter.

Williams, the police chief, interjected: “We need help solving this homicide. We need help finding this killer … bring them to justice. It’s not about snitching.

“We’re going to get some resolution,” Williams said. “We’re going to get back to where you can sleep at night without gunfire.”

Community involvement

Reggie McDaniel, the motorcycle club president, said the group has been on North Cleveland for about two years, in a corner building that housed a barber college years ago. The club previously had been meeting on Hillside near 13th.

Phat Azz Bikes Inc. formed as a not-for-profit in 2004, but that status lapsed in 2012 because of failure to file an annual report, according to the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office.

McDaniel, a 48-year-old barber, said the club has about 30 members, ages 34 to 54. Everyone has a regular job, and one is a church deacon, he said.

What they share, he said, is “we love motorcycles to the fullest.”

They also consider themselves part of the community, McDaniel said, so they contribute to charities. They’ve provided Thanksgiving food to “adopted” families. They participate in a toy drive and fundraising for back-to-school supplies and have held Halloween parties for children. They helped with the new dedication of Dunbar Theater, which is across the street and just north of the clubhouse building.

“We all do take pride in that building,” McDaniel said of the Dunbar, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The clubhouse opens to other people once or twice a month, only on Saturday nights, from around 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., he said. People entering the clubhouse have to be at least 30 years old, and IDs are checked, he said.

The venue isn’t a bar or a nightclub, he said. “We are a clubhouse.”

The club takes donations – it has “Donations only” printed in three places by its front door. But the donations are not considered a charge for alcohol, McDaniel said. Alcohol is available in the clubhouse. “We have it, but it’s not provided to everybody,” he said.

Members pay monthly dues, which pays for bills and rent, and extra money goes to charity, he said.

There is no live entertainment that would require licensing, he said.

McDaniel said he has heard no talk by city officials of regulating the club.

Capt. Brian White, the new commander of the Patrol North Bureau, which includes the neighborhood around the clubhouse, said city regulations get periodically and systematically reviewed.

Wednesday’s impact meeting was a first step to collect information about concerns regarding the clubhouse and the shooting, he said. That input is being reviewed, but it’s too early to say what police might be able to do from a community-policing standpoint, White said.

“It was clear through the meeting that many of the community members that live near the clubhouse want change,” he said, “and we will work to resolve the issues they have while balancing the rights of the club.”

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