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Thursday, May 30, 2024

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

At Tueday’s Wilmington City Council meeting, council member Luke Waddell brought up the April 14 shooting at Pravda and his request to research “bad actors” in downtown Wilmington. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON — The Wilmington City Council meeting did not passTuesday evening  without one member bringing up the weekend shooting at a downtown nightclub.

READ MORE: Downtown shooting at Pravda leaves one injured, one arrested

At the end of the meeting, council member Luke Waddell brought up the April 14 shooting at Pravda, which resulted in the hospitalization of one victim facing serious injuries. Police arrested Antonio Beatty, after pursuing him on foot, for attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, and carrying a concealed weapon. 

“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. 

The council member was referencing a social media post urging city leaders to “not stand idly by while a few seek to destroy” the work city has put into its downtown.

“It’s not fair to our law enforcement, who I will add ran towards the sound of gunfire immediately the other night — complete and total heroes who deserve our utmost respect,” Waddell said. “It’s not fair to the businesses that are around these establishments that are doing their best to stay within the law and run good business. And it’s certainly not right for the community at large.”

Waddell then requested staff compile recent crime data on “these establishments that have become a nuisance” to downtown. He said council could decide how take action on problems found.

State law affords cities “shall have the authority to summarily remove, abate, or remedy everything in the city limits, or within one mile thereof, that is dangerous or prejudicial to the public health or public safety.” 

A nuisance includes 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 shall constitute a nuisance.”

If a business is found to be repeatedly breaching the peace, civil action can be taken against it.

Port City Daily reached out to Waddell to ask what specific establishments he was referring to, as well as city staff to ask which businesses they were directed to research, if any. Waddell did not respond by press. 

City spokesperson Lauren Edwards said “staff was directed to pull data that could help identify establishments and factors that contribute to crime, not to look into specific establishments.”

Lt. Greg Willett told Port City Daily, anecdotally, establishments that stand out with a number 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. 

Port City Daily reached out to the owners of Pravda, though a response was not received by press. 

However, the nightclub posted a response to the shooting on social media late afternoon on Sunday. They noted their “hearts were heavy after the senseless violent incident” and that they were “cooperating fully with law enforcement.”

Mayor Bill Saffo also spoke on the matter, telling his fellow council members he was invited to view video footage of that evening. On it, he said, were seven police officers, two of their cars, and a sheriff’s deputy standing outside Pravda when three gunshots went off. 

“I saw people running in all directions,” Saffo said. “What impressed me the most was the seven officers, men and women, that ran toward that club, apprehended the individual that shot that gun, and saved lives.” 

Though violent crime has been decreasing in Wilmington over the last three years, gun seizures were up in 2023, Wilmington Police Department Chief Donny Williams told council earlier this year. 

However, in October 2023, downtown experienced one of the “largest shootings” to take place in the city, according to assistant district attorney Brad Matthews. Eighty-six bullets were fired downtown in the early morning hours of Oct. 15. The incident took place near the intersection of Princess and Second streets in a shootout between rival gang members from the 720 Gangster Disciples and the United Blood Nation.

Bullets struck cars along Second Street, up to the Hannah Block USO and Community Arts Center. 19-year old Tyshaun Windham pleaded guilty to the crime this week; 18-year-old Tristian Allen is being charged as well.

The WPD has increased its presence in downtown Wilmington in the last few years. At an August 2022 city council meeting, councilors voted unanimously to add more police presence in a 70-block area of downtown due to growth and increased patrons at downtown bars, breweries and restaurants. 

Five new officers were hired, and the move was controversial at the time because funding for two of them, totalling $184,000 with vehicles, was directed to come from the Municipal Service District’s $781,306 budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year.

The council also used $40,000 from the New Hanover County ABC Board to purchase eBikes for officers to traverse areas, such as the Riverwalk, currently unreachable by car. In November 2023, the WPD also asked to be an authorized user of downtown businesses’ personal cameras to access footage as needed, instead of having to wait for permission. The request comes after two shootings took place in the central business district of downtown within two months of each other.


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