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City moves to close store at Cherry, Clay

[07/26/01] Vicksburg officials took the first steps Wednesday toward shutting down a convenience store after a customer was shot and killed nearby on Tuesday.

During a closed session, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to take legal action against the owner of The Smoke Break at Clay and Cherry streets. A chancery judge will be asked to declare that business and two others a public nuisance and shut down.

“I have a legal and moral obligation to shut these businesses down because they have a terrible history as it relates to crime in violence,” Mayor Laurence Leyens said.

Leyens said there have been about 800 calls to 911 in the past 18 months about incidents at The Smoke Break and 91 reports of violence against people. He said that the store’s history of problems was what caused the city to take action after Tuesday’s shooting.

Police believe that Eddie Baker, who was 38, had left the store and was walking down Cherry Street when he was shot around 2:50 a.m. Baker died about 15 hours later at ParkView Regional Medical Center.

Ernest Thomas, who owns the real estate building next door to The Smoke Break, rents the property at Clay and Cherry to Hill City Oil, which leases out to the owner of the business. Thomas said he does not believe closing the business will solve the problem.

“I think what they really need to do is sit back and look at what the other options are,” he said.

Thomas pointed out that the downtown business pays taxes and employs a lot of people in the area. He also said it is frequently used by both local residents and tourists traveling Clay Street.

“I don’t think it is up to the owners to police the streets,” Thomas said.

Tuesday’s shooting was the second near The Smoke Break in less than a month. Stephen Bailey, 31, was shot in the parking lot there June 28.

Bailey, 1206 China St., was shot once in the back after fighting with another man inside the store. He was released from ParkView several days later.

Less than a year ago Dock Davis Jr., 1512 South St., beat Bobby Pinkney with a metal pipe in the parking lot of the store. Pinkney, who was 37, died one day later and Davis, 19 was later sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter charges.

Leyens said the city is also seeking legal actions to close two other businesses operated by Jamal Khouri. Khouri owns convenience stores at Mission and Alcorn streets and Drummond Street and Bowmar Avenue. A homicide took place outside the Drummond-Bowmar store in December 1999.

The suit was expected to be filed in Warren County Chancery Court Thursday. Leyens said the city’s legal department is also looking at other businesses with frequent 911 calls that could be added to the suit.

The city has used the nuisance law to close a business before. Last month, an Indianola judge granted a permanent injunction ruling that Coach’s, 1211 Washington St., was a public nuisance and must remain closed.

Court papers showed that police had been called to the club more than 200 times since it opened in 1998.

In Vicksburg, at least two other bars deemed unruly by the city were closed in the 1990s after numerous police calls.

In 1999, complaints of unruly crowds, brawling and vandalism in front of Club T-Rel on Washington Street ended when the business lost its lease.