LIMA — The shooting deaths of three men at a downtown Lima drinking establishment early Tuesday were the latest in an ongoing series of events and incidents at Levels Lounge that have long ruffled the collective feathers of city leaders.
They could be the last, if the city has its way.
Terrell McGraw, 28, Timothy White, 25, and Devontae Upshaw, 24, were shot and killed during an apparent exchange of gunfire at Levels Lounge, located at 122 E. North St.
Police know their way to the location quite well.
According to records obtained from the Lima Police Department, officers in the past 12 months responded to 123 calls for service at the East North Street address. The majority of those calls, more than 30, were in reference to fights in progress and/or other disturbances at the bar. Other calls, according to police records, focused on complaints that ranged from alleged thefts, vehicle investigations, traffic stops, harassment, pedestrian checks, drug complaints, underage drinking, a sex offense and a “stripper compliance check.”
The last shooting at the site occurred on April 22 at 2:34 a.m. when shots were fired in the parking lot of the bar around 2:30 a.m. Watson Lindsey, 56, of Lima, who was inside a vehicle, was struck in the arm and taken to Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical, where he was treated and released.
Lima City Law Director Tony Geiger on Tuesday called the shootings “unacceptable” and said legal steps would be taken immediately to shut down the East North Street bar.
“We will be filing paperwork in court, probably tomorrow (Wednesday) to immediately close the place down through a temporary restraining order.” Geiger said the court filing will also ask the court to schedule a date to hear the city’s arguments in favor of an injunction that would close the establishment permanently.
The city filed a nuisance lawsuit last year with the Allen County Clerk of Courts office targeting Levels Lounge, which goes by several names, including Beantown Saloon. In December of last year the city entered into an agreement with Michael Liles, the manager of Levels, in which Liles agreed to do “multiple things … to improve security and to minimize the likelihood of things like last night happening,” according to the law director.
“Well, it happened … and it’s unacceptable,” Geiger said.
Lima City Council in April of last year adopted an ordinance formally objecting to the renewal of a liquor license at Levels.
The ordinance reads that because “officers from the Lima Police Department have responded to calls for service at the premises resulting in arrests and criminal charges or other police responses related to: assaults; fighting; underage consumption of alcohol; noise disturbances (loud music, yelling, etc.); public intoxication; amongst other problems, … council’s opinion that continued operation of this permit premises would substantially and adversely interfere with the public decency, sobriety, peace, good order, property, health, and safety of the public …”
Councilor Jamie Dixon said he immediately called the city’s law department over hearing the news to push for closure of the bar. Dixon had defended the business in council in earlier sessions, but with the latest news, he said that bar owners need to be held to a higher standard to ensure public safety.
Dixon, however, also took issue with the bigger picture of gun violence that leads to such deaths. While Dixon clarified that he is not against gun ownership, he highlighted the need for changes in the laws affecting peer-to-peer gun purchases, such as those conducted during gun shows, to reduce the number of guns getting into immature hands.
“It saddens me that we have to wake up to a city that is very shaken because of someone else’s negligence,” Dixon said.
In response to the tragedy, Mayor David Berger expressed his dismay over Levels Lounge’s ability to prevent the shooting despite the agreements made with the city.
“Obviously, the operators can’t conduct their business in a way that is safe for their patrons,” Berger said.
Derek Solomon, who holds the liquor permit for Levels Lounge, said following council’s vote in April that council and city officials have unfairly targeted Levels as a source of crime, going as far as challenging Geiger to a polygraph to prove comments that Solomon alleged Geiger made against the Liles family.