JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The owner of the Jacksonville Landing is considering a major policy shift after two teens were shot in front of his property Monday. One of them died.
Toney Sleiman, who owns the Landing, said right now groups of teens under the age of 18 are escorted off property, but he's considering raising that threshold to 21 years old.
“We’ve got to get these parents of these kids, and we’ve got to make them responsible for their kids,” Sleiman said. “What are they doing in large groups? They’re minors. They’re kids -- 14, 15, 16 years old. Where are the parents? What the hell are the parents doing?”
Sleiman said he's saddened for the families involved, but that he more or less predicted this could happen again after the shooting of two teenagers earlier this month at Art Walk.
“Two to three weeks ago we had Art Walk, same things. Couple blocks from The Landing, same situation,” Sleiman said. “You’ve got unsupervised minors, small kids, minors that are in large groups, and a couple people got shot.”
News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said enforcing Sleiman's new rule could be difficult if some members of a group are over 21.
“The problem comes in what if you have a 17-year-old with a 25-year-old or a parent. He has to draw the line somewhere, and he’s going to have to do that with all 17-, 18-year-olds,” Smith said.
Smith said the policy could also cause problems if it's not enforced uniformly.
“It’s not a hard thing to do, but they have to be careful and not target any particular race or gender,” Smith said. “That could become a very serious issue if they’re only breaking up African-American males, and you see another group twice as large of white females and not say anything to them. That’s something I’m sure they’re not aware of and need to monitor closely.”
Any policy shift would have to wait until at least next week. Sleiman is in Washington DC for the inauguration of President Donald Trump. He said he plans to meet with the sheriff and possibly the mayor next week.
Business owner helps during shooting
Dana Atkins, the owner of Public House Coffee, said his business has been open just over a week and his staff was at The Landing for a training session Monday when the gunfire rang out.
Police said a fight in front of the Landing led to the gunfire, and that the shooting was likely gang-related.
The shooting is also possibly connected to the Art Walk double shooting, in which one of the victims ran to The Landing for help.
Atkins said when they heard the shots Monday afternoon, he worked to get everyone into his store for safety.
“I initially thought it was firecrackers. I heard five to 10 pops. That's usually a lot for a single gun,” Atkins said. "Everyone just ran north. We saw people run through here, and then cut through the buildings. There's a gap over here you can cut through."
Now he plans to add surveillance cameras.
"After the Art Walk incident, the people that do the Wi-Fi, they asked me 'Do you think you need surveillance?' We already know we have the wiring for it,” Atkins said. “We'll put cameras in just in case. It's almost necessary now."
Atkins said despite the recent violence, he doesn't regret opening his shop inside the Landing.
He said it's a good spot for a business, but he's considering changes to his operation.
"We've decided that we're going to reinforce more of the, 'You can't just come in and hang out (rules),'” Atkins said. “No, you can't come in and use the bathroom. No, we're not going to give anything free away.”
Mayor reacts to 2nd Downtown shooting
Mayor Lenny Curry said Tuesday that every shooting in Jacksonville concerns him, no matter where it happens.
He said it comes down to resources.
“I wake up every morning figuring out what I can do, executing on the power that I have, to have an impact on this and put a stop to it, which is why I have invested resources in law-enforcement and will continue to,” Curry said. “Anytime something like this happens in any part of our city, I'm not going away on this issue. I'm going to remain vigilant on the issue, giving law enforcement what they need and ask for.”
Curry reiterated that he recently brought back 40 police officers and 40 community service officers, and he will continue to bring back more. He said he also plans to meet with recently elected state attorney Melissa Nelson -- something he said has been planned for some time -- to figure out how they can work together to make Jacksonville a safer place.
Downtown businesses concerned
Many people who own businesses Downtown were on edge Tuesday after two shootings in the area within 12 days of each other.
Anamaria Contreras works at a family business -- Mocha Misk’i, a brownie shop on North Laura Street, not far from Hemming Park or The Landing.
“Clearly we're concerned that this will continue. Whatever they do it's even scarier, because there's a lot of events that go on here downtown,” Contreras said. “Downtown is definitely growing. There's more people coming to live here, to hang out here. There's restaurants. It's definitely growing at a pretty quick pace.”
That’s why her family decided to open at their Downtown location about a year ago.
Contreras said outside of the shootings, she’s always felt safe, and she hopes the violence will end soon -- or her family could have to consider re-locating.
“As of right now, I think it's too soon to say we're out, but if it continues to be like that, then I don't think there's a choice,” she said.