State shuts down troubled Jacksonville motel

Eight homicides, hundreds of Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office calls in area this year

A Jacksonville motel that has been a magnet for violent crime, including three deadly shootings this year, has now been shut down by the state.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville motel that has been a magnet for violent crime, including eight deadly shootings this year, has been shut down.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation ordered the emergency closure of the Gold Rush Inn on Harts Road, revoking the establishment’s license to operate, an aide for Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney said in a Wednesday email.

The city’s Office of General Counsel notified Gaffney and fellow Councilmember LeAnna Cumber, among others, about the emergency closure during a virtual conference call held earlier Wednesday to discuss the crime problem plaguing several of the city’s hotels.

“I just got word that the state pulled the license for Gold Rush last night,” deputy general counsel Jason Teal said. “They said no more occupants can be accepted, no rent can be collected, it cannot operate as a public lodging establishment. The license is suspended immediately until they are no longer an immediate threat to the public.”

Speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, Gaffney said he’s been working on dealing with the motel for some time, adding that the emergency closure is just a start. He said a bill is being drafted to create a new board that would empower the city to shut down a nuisance business immediately. He noted that the city is giving motel residents until Thursday to clear out, and they’ll be given assistance.

“If we did not do that and close it down, in 30 days some poor family would be wailing because there would probably be another shooting that probably would’ve happened like every 15 and 30 days,” Gaffney said. “So this action today began a process to bring this to an end and the ending attempted is to close them down.”

A copy of the state’s emergency suspension order cited over 50 serious cases documented by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office at the property, ranging from robbery to aggravated battery to homicide. It mentioned Sunday’s shooting, which sent a man to the hospital with serious injuries and a June 23 shooting in the parking lot that left two men dead. The order says the hotel has “demonstrated abject disregard” for the health and safety of its guests by “continuing to operate as usual despite the recent and repeated bouts of serious, oftentimes deadly violence on its premises.”

[View a PDF version of the emergency order below]

“Throughout this year, Gold Rush has been the scene of numerous violent acts,” the order says. “In the past three months alone, JSO has received nearly 200 calls for service at Gold Rush. The (DBPR’s Division of Hotels and Restaurants) finds that continued operation of Gold Rush’s public lodging establishment presents an immediate public health or safety or welfare threat, the suspension of Gold Rush’s license to operate as a public lodging establishment is necessary to protect guests and the public, and that this procedure is fair under the circumstances to adequately protect guests and the public. Anything short of closure would be an insufficient safeguard.”

The order says the suspension will remain in place and the closure will stay closed until the order is lifted. It goes on to say that regulators will perform a follow-up inspection as soon as possible to determine whether the threat to the public still exists and if the business has met the criteria imposed by the state before it can resume operating.

“I think we could’ve declared this a public nuisance under a city ordinance sometime ago,” State Sen. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville told News4Jax on Wednesday. “Now it’s come to its boiling point.”

As it turns out, the city was in the process of doing just that. City records show the motel’s management was notified Oct. 23 about several public nuisance violations at the property and given 10 days to correct the issues. JSO sent the business a second letter Tuesday, this one a final warning notice that detailed a wide range of crimes that have happened at or near the property. The second letter made several recommendations to make the property safer, including improving parking lot lighting, and gave management 15 days to respond.

Teal, the city’s deputy general counsel, told News4Jax the motel’s manager had spoken with JSO about taking steps to ward off crime, such as posting “no loitering signs,” but Teal said those actions came up short. “The motel didn’t come close to making a meaningful effort to solve the problem,” he said.

While news of the motel’s emergency closure was met with applause on Wednesday morning’s Zoom call, not everyone was thrilled about it. Especially those who live at the motel, like Carlton Balkom, who was scrambling to figure out where he’ll go.

“Now I hear this place is being shut down and we don’t have anywhere to go,” Balkom told News4Jax. “I understand there are a lot of things going on out here, but half the things that go on out here are from people that don’t live out here and that is the rotten part about it. I just saw several women crying because they got kids and it’s Christmas time. And what are they supposed to do?”

Balkom isn’t alone. Tim Harris said he and his girlfriend, who is bedridden with a disability, will be stranded.

“No money, nowhere to go,” Harris said. “Why should we get punished and have nowhere to go? Poor people have got to stay somewhere.”

Gaffney said residents displaced by the move will be allowed to move out on Thursday, and he promised the city would assist those who need help with relocation. It’s unclear exactly how many residents will be affected by the emergency closure, or how long the closure is expected to last.

The motel, which is considered a hot spot for violence and drugs, has been the subject of roughly 800 police calls for service in 2020, and as many as eight deadly shootings on Harts Road are connected to the business. Most recently, police were already working a disturbance in the area Sunday night when a man was shot outside one of the hotel’s rooms. Last month, people picketed outside the hotel, carrying signs saying it’s a danger to the area.

According to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the motel has been the subject of 10 complaints since May, all of which resulted in inspections. Most recently, the motel was inspected Dec. 11 in response to a complaint. During that inspection, the state documented 19 basic violations and five high-priority violations, including dead and live roaches found in various rooms.

Attempts by News4Jax to speak with the management of the motel have so far been unsuccessful.

Homicides in 2020 on Harts Road

  • Jan 20: 20-year-old Reginald Boston Jr. killed and a second man wounded in a police-involved shooting during an undercover operation.
  • March 18: 18-year-old man dead, and four others wounded in a mass shooting at 11500 Harts Road. One of those wounded was a 3-year-old child.
  • March 29: 30-year-old Terrance Whitley found shot dead in a parking lot at 10865 Harts Road. Joshua Stamper, 31, under arrest.
  • May 21: 28-year-old man fatally shot at the Gold Rush Motel at 10885 Harts Road.
  • June 23: Two people killed in a shootout at the Gold Rush Motel. JSO says they killed each other when an argument escalated, later saying a 26-year old man killed Dario Martinez in self-defense.
  • Sept. 30: 35-year-old man shot and killed at the Valero Gas Station at 10870 Harts Road.
  • Nov. 21: 34-year-old man fatally shot in a car at 10800 Harts Road.

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