Article Courtesy of The
By Dan Scanlan
Published November 25, 2020
The signs were held high Monday morning by people demanding change on a short
stretch of Harts Road that's seen seven fatal shootings at or near two motels
this year, the latest one on Saturday.
They joined City Council members and other community leaders in a new effort to
close the Gold Rush Inn and River City Inn after that and other violence
occurred at the gateway to their neighborhoods.
What's happening at
the motels is a "bad thing" for those living in all the
neighborhoods north of the motels, Oakley Point Homeowners
Association president Jay Williams said. As neighbors walked
nearby with with signs saying "Shut them down" and "We Need
Change," he hopes to organize their homeowners associations
to add to efforts begun on Monday to get more police
"These are the first thing that people see when they come to
our homes and see what is happening up and down Harts Road
and it is not a good picture," Williams said. "... We start
a petition drive. It's good what they are doing here, but
they need to hear from the grassroots, the people who live
in the community."
Joining the protests was City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, who
gathered fellow lawmakers, clergy and city officials to
demand more police presence and the closure of the motels as
he works toward longer-term solutions.
"We are darned tired, and we as leaders need to do something," Gaffney said.
"... We are looking at problems. We are looking at killings. The long-term
solution is intervention, prevention and jobs creation. If these people had
a job; if they had other means to not just turn to drugs, prostitution and
other crimes, you wouldn't have these problems."
No one was available for comment at the River City Inn, while Gold Rush Inn
managers will not be available until after Thanksgiving, according to staff.
Gaffney met in front of a shuttered gaming parlor near the motels as 20
neighbors waved signs at motorists in the 10000 block of Harts Road. That
area just north of Dunn Avenue has been the scene of three homicides alone
in the past six months alone, according to Sheriff's Office records. Gaffney
also handed out a Sheriff's Office list of 800-plus police calls made since
January to the Gold Rush Inn alone for incidents ranging from domestic
violence and suicides to armed assaults and homicides.
The latest homicide was at about 5:15 a.m. Saturday, when a 34-year-old man
was found dead at with a gunshot wound inside a crashed car on Harts Road at
Dunn Avenue, police said. A witness told Times-Union news partner First
Coast News that a blue vehicle sped away from the Gold Rush Inn right before
the crash, right after about 20 gunshots were heard.
On June 23, two men were shot dead while trading gunfire outside the Gold
Rush, one determined to be a justifiable homicide, while the other victim
was murdered, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Officers were called out
about 1:30 a.m. that morning to the motel after reports of a shooting to
find two men in the parking lot, each shot multiple times, the Sheriff’s
Office said. Investigators believe the two men began arguing outside the
motel, then started shooting at each other.
On Sept. 30, one person was killed after a shooting in the 10800 block of
Harts Road at about 4:40 p.m., police said. On May 21, one man was killed
following a shooting at the Gold Rush Inn just north of Dunn Avenue, police
said. A Jan. 21 officer-involved shooting was reported near the motel that
left one man dead and another injured during a Sheriff’s Office undercover
operation, Chief T.K. Waters said. Officers met three suspects, one of whom
pulled out a gun, Waters said, The officers told the suspect to drop the
gun, but he refused and several shots were fired, Waters said. Two of the
men were hit, one dying at the scene, police said.
Gaffney said he will ask the Sheriff's Office to increase patrols in the
motel area to constantly patrol the motel area to ensure a "presence seven
days a week." He is also working with city and state officials to shut the
motels down. And he said he plans to work with the Sheriff's Office to
install security cameras near the motels.
"We should have done this years ago. We need eyes so we can know exactly
what is going on," Gaffney said. "I want to make sure we clean up this part
of Harts Road. ... I am going to ask the sheriff to increase his presence
until we solve the long-term problems."
Others joined Gaffney at a podium to decry the violence in the area and
demand that the city take action.
Duval County School Board Vice Chairman Darryl Willie lives in a
neighborhood north of the motels, saying crime-fighting and prevention
efforts have to increase there. He says he worries about children he sees
walking past the motels daily to and from schools, knowing how bad things
are because drives past them daily with his children.
"I think about what they have to see and I have to explain what's happening
every time we pass by this area. That's enough, and that's not even talking
about all the murders and suicides going on inside these buildings," Willie
said. "We can do better. We have to do better."
Saying you "see the walking dead" outside those motels if you drive by them
late at night, The Rev. Michael Jackson said cars were vandalized and broken
into at his church at 11046 Harts Road recently. And as a resident who lives
a half-mile from the motels, he said that if the mayor and sheriff "love us
on this side of town," send more police and help them shut the motels down.
"We are saying enough is enough," the Springhill Missionary Baptist Church
pastor said. "... We have two to three entities within this community that
need to be shut down. And by the grace of God, they will be shut down."
City Council Vice Chairman Samuel Newby and fellow council member Ju'Coby
Pittman also joined the others in speaking out. And Sheriff's Office Lt.
Shawn McCormick spoke with Gaffney and Jackson after the news conference
about their concerns, but could not comment on it.
Gaffney said protests to shut the motels will continue from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
on Tuesday and Wednesday, adding they will "come back until we see change."