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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Pravda owner increases security after shooting, addresses council member’s ‘bad actor’ comment

The owner of Pravda nightclub, the site of a recent shooting that put one person in critical condition, is defending his business after a city council member indicated some downtown clubs were “bad actors.” (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON — The owner of Pravda nightclub, the site of a recent shooting that put one person in critical condition, is defending his business after a city council member indicated some downtown clubs were “bad actors.”

READ MORE: Council member launches probe into downtown ‘bad actors’ after Pravda shooting

Sixteen-year business owner Dustin Cook, who owns Pravda and KGB, told Port City Daily on Thursday he takes it very personally when anything happens downtown.

“The fact that it happened at my establishment is very upsetting to me,” Cook said. “And the fact that there’s someone out there now [a council member] that wants to come after me because of it, instead of supporting us — it’s just horrible.” 

Cook is already making changes in the wake of Saturday’s shooting. He reported Pravda was going back to a membership system, which used to be required of private clubs. Local bars typically charged patrons $1 for a yearlong pass, until state law dropped the rule in 2022.

Club-goers will now also be screened via a metal-detecting wand at the door, as Pravda opens this weekend.

“I would expect and really don’t want to do more than a quarter of business,” Cook said. 

Two employees have quit since Saturday. 

“We’ve always been about giving people a fun and safe way to go out and connect with music and each other and have a good night out,” Cook said. “We’re absolutely devastated.” 

On Tuesday, council member Luke Waddell spoke to the Saturday shooting, which resulted in the arrest of Antonio Beatty for attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, and carrying a concealed weapon. Prosecutors said video footage shows Beatty fire on the victim as he turned around to leave. 

“The reality is that this is something very bad and horrible that happened at Pravda and this is not something very horrible that Pravda caused or did,” Cook said. 

Waddell seemed to place responsibility for the violent act, and those before it, on a select few of small businesses. 

“I said publicly recently, and I continue to believe, there are a few establishments downtown that are bad actors and that they’re consistent catalysts to violent crime in our downtown area,” Waddell said. 

In his Facebook post of similar remarks, the council member substituted the word “establishments” for “nightclubs.”

Waddell then called for staff to pull crime statistics showing what businesses or individuals were the culprits for the bulk of incidents. On a call with PCD Thursday, Waddell would not specify what establishments he was referring to. 

“I’m not ready to list any out yet,” Waddell said, noting that’s why he directed staff to compile data.

Waddell asserted his comments were well-received by the community and community members, including business owners, affirmed the merit of his claims. 

Still, Cook said he thought Waddell’s prejudgements were out of line. Cook called the council member to discuss it and told PCD it “didn’t go too well.” 

Waddell would not comment on the conversation.

On Thursday, Cook said he didn’t feel like violence was concentrated at Pravda, and the owners are following all the laws that bind other establishments. His other bar, KGB, has had no police calls, he said. 

Port City Daily filed a public records request for police reports made for incidents at Pravda and KGB, but it was not returned by press.

Still, Waddell maintained council ought to consider taking action. It could include a nuisance abatement, though Waddell said it is not something he takes lightly. 

State law defines a nuisance as the “erection, establishment, continuance, maintenance, use, ownership or leasing of any building or place wherein or whereon are carried on, conducted, or permitted repeated acts which create and constitute a breach of the peace.”

If a business is found to be repeatedly breaching the peace, civil action can be taken against it, though many municipalities can work with the business owner on agreements to mitigate the problems without going to court.

Lt. Greg Willett, with the Wilmington Police Department, told PCD on Wednesday that, anecdotally, establishments that stand out with their volume of reports have included Pravda, but those “rumblings” extended before the latest round violence. 

“God bless them because the folks that own it are nice and helpful but they’ve had bad problems with clientele,” Willett said. 

Cook corroborated that assessment, noting Pravda “gets a pretty good mixed crowd” and that could contribute to the number of incidents at the club. A string of fights with police involvement took place from December through February. The nightclub owner said security was down to two personnel — one at the door, the other inside — at that point, due to a normal reduction in the winter months, but business didn’t slow down like Cook expected it would in the off-season.

Since then, they’ve upped security to four and tightened door entry, turning away people they think will be a problem.

On the night of April 13, staff had no indication Beatty was going to shoot someone, Cook said. Prosecutors said video footage appeared to show Beatty and the victim sitting together and Beatty allegedly firing shots as the victim turned to leave.

Cook invited Mayor Saffo to come review the footage and discuss the aftermath, according to an email obtained by Port City Daily, but by press he said the mayor had not responded.

After publication, Cook told PCD Saffo had responded to his email.


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com.

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