Community leaders respond to shooting death outside Lotus Lounge

by Jeff Sykes | @jeffreysykes

A Hertford County man visiting friends and relatives in the Triad was shot to death late Saturday night in a developing section of Downtown Greensboro despite the presence of seven additional police officers in the area for crowd control.

A police spokesperson said that Lotus Lounge on West Lewis Street had hired four off-duty police officers to work security at the club on Saturday night. Three on-duty Greensboro Police Department officers were assigned to work crowd control, police spokesperson Susan Danielsen said. Additionally, GPD had its regular compliment of nine officers from the Center City Resource Team in the area as patrons left the club.

Despite the planned police presence, authorities say that Jermaine Marqel Couch, of 704 Glendale Dr., and 19-year-old Patrick Simmons, of Ahoskie, North Carolina, engaged in a verbal altercation as they left the club. Police charged Couch with murder after Simmons was shot to death.

Police do not know the topic or nature of the dispute at this time, Danielsen said, but “it escalated very quickly into that fatal shooting.”

Lotus Lounge was at the center of a firestorm last year when patrons leaving the club in early November exchanged gunfire in the middle of Elm Street with patrons from another downtown club at the intersection with Lewis Street. City council quickly developed an enhanced club security ordinance, which was passed and then suspended amid complaints of favoritism from club owners. At that time, 28 clubs were identified as being subjected to the new ordinance, which would have required tiered layers of armed security proportional to the club’s occupancy level.

Danielsen said she wasn’t familiar with the specifics steps Lotus Lounge had taken since last November’s incident to improve patron safety, but that club owners had hired the additional off-duty officers, and the department assigned additional staff, because the performer that night was expected to draw a large crowd.

Danielsen said there was no indication that Couch had the weapon on him inside the club. Police declined to release any details about the weapon. The shooting occurred at 2:18 a.m., police said.

The additional staff did make a difference in allowing police to readily apprehend the shooter.

“Because we had additional officers there, and a good traffic control plan in place at the time of the shooting, those additional resources were critical in quickly identifying the subject,” Danielsen said.

A police officer was in the proximity of the victim when the shot rang out. Danielsen said there was one shot fired and that Simmons was struck one time. Other information about the injuries is being withheld pending confirmation by an autopsy.

“We had an officer who was very close to the young man who lost his life at the time of the shooting,” Danielsen said. “There were enough officers there that we were able to quickly cordon off the area and contain it so people could not leave the scene.”

The restricted movement, combined with witness descriptions, helped police apprehend Couch. Danielsen declined to elaborate on the witness statements.

Simmons was a 2014 graduate of Hertford County High School, according to Roanoke-Chowan News Herald.

He was a student at Elizabeth City State University. The university said that Simmons was a sophomore studying Pharmaceutical Science. Friends and family on social media mourned his death on Sunday, often describing him as a positive young person focused on future success.

Business owners on Lewis Street and Greensboro civic leaders expressed their grief over the young man’s death this week, while at the same time hinting that the days of Lotus Lounge on that block are numbered.

“At this point I am more concerned about the safety of human life,” said Mark Gibb, owner of Gibb’s Hundred Brewery, which is located across Lewis Street from Lotus Lounge. “People are dying here. Regardless if it impacts my business or not, something has to be done here.”

Gibb stressed that the neighborhood is very safe before midnight, when the popular brewpub that opened last year closes for the evening. Following the shooting involving Lotus Lounge patrons last November, Gibb said he and other business owners in the area worked very hard to get the message out that Lewis Street, and South End in general, are very safe places to enjoy nightlife.

Now, Gibb said, the general feeling is that Lotus needs to be shut down in that location.

“We are very concerned about people in the neighborhood and inside that club,” Gibb said. “There is some kind of violent environment over there that lends itself to it. It just keeps happening. I know the owners tried to address it after November, but whatever they did didn’t work. At some point when people are dying it’s not good enough to say we are trying. It just needs to be shut down if they can’t get a handle on it.”

Gibb said that he had reached out to Lotus Lounge owner, Paul Talley, but that his messages had not been returned. Talley did not return multiple phone calls to YES! Weekly seeking comment on steps he had taken to improve safety for his club patrons and the neighboring community.

Gibb, who is a member of Downtown Greensboro Inc.’s board of directors, said he had spoken to DGI president Zack Matheny about the situation. Matheny indicated that he had spoken to Talley and that Talley was considering closing the club.

“At this point I am not sure if it fits into any neighborhood,” Gibb said. “Back in November we were questioning if it fit with this neighborhood.

When two people get killed in the span of nine months, it’s not a question of what neighborhood it fits into.”

Matheny, who took over as head of DGI this summer, spearheaded the drive to create an enhanced club security ordinance last fall after the November shooting involving Lotus Lounge patrons. His primary concern remains public safety.

“It’s a tragedy. A young man lost his life and a family lost a member,” Matheny said.

When asked what steps could be taken to lessen the environment for possible violence, Matheny was blunt.

“I’m not sure if you can technically lessen the environment,” Matheny said, adding that Talley had taken extra steps to improve safety since last year’s shooting.

Talley also serves on the DGI board and is a “good guy”, Matheny said. The two had talked on Thursday prior to the shooting. Matheny credited Talley for hiring off-duty police to enhance safety around Lotus Lounge.

“He had been doing a lot. He put into play a lot of what we had discussed previously,” Matheny said. “Within 100 feet there were officers at the time of this occurrence. The question that keeps going in my mind is why? Why do people resort to such violence over really nothing? If it’s something like that, I don’t see how you stop poor decisions and hatred, no matter where officers are.”

Matheny stressed that Downtown Greensboro is a safe place and that both shootings involving Lotus Lounge patrons happened deep into the night.

“By and large we have a tremendously safe downtown,” he said. “This is an incident that occurred at 2:30 in the morning by getting ammunition out of a car. I just don’t get it. I don’t know how you manage that from any standpoint.”

Matheny said he had spoken to Talley, who expressed remorse at Simmons’ death.

“I don’t think that is anything that anybody would want to have on their shoulders,” Matheny said. “I think it will be interesting to see ultimately what the decision is on the future of Lotus.”

Talley has been a “valuable part of the investment in downtown,” Matheny said “I respect that. In this case, at least geographically close to Lotus, there have been some very tragic issues and those are conversations we have to have,” he said. “A lot of people would like to see Lotus gone, and some city officials would like to see that. Having an open communication with (Talley) and just talking through it will be re- ally important.” !