Police patrolling Brookhaven, Georgia on the early hours of March 6 responded to the sounds of shots fired in the parking lot of Josephine Lounge in the 3200 block of Buford Highway. There they found one man suffering from a gunshot wound. Another victim was found a couple blocks north of the parking lot, and a third gunshot victim managed to get himself to the hospital. All three men were from out of town, and police say that all three appear to be innocent bystanders.
While the owners of Josephine’s Lounge cannot be held accountable for every crime that happens on or near their property, they can be liable if they failed to take reasonable steps to protect patrons against foreseeable risks. A critical question is whether an owner of a late-night lounge should expect there could be violence in its parking lot. Studies have shown increased violence in parking lots where people are not subject to pat-down checks or metal detectors and may have easy access to guns kept in cars. Those factors are exacerbated during late-night hours and at locations where alcohol is served.
In the days leading up to the NBA All Star Weekend, Atlanta police announced they were cancelling days off for officers in the Field Operations Division, according to reporting from 11 Alive, and they “placed sworn administrative personnel on the streets ‘to ensure maximum police presence.’” The police, and Atlanta’s mayor, were concerned that unsanctioned events surrounding All Star Weekend could result in increased violence.
In a publicized video statement released Tuesday, March 2nd, Deputy Chief Michael O’Connor said,“We know there are people who will take advantage of this weekend’s events by hosting unsanctioned and unpermitted events, please know that we intend to hold you accountable.”
The NBA even sent out letters to event promoters to discourage gatherings, including “cease and desist letters to promoters using the league name and logo to promote parties,” according to 11 Alive.
Despite these publicized warnings, promoters at Josephine Lounge advertised an “All Star Weekend Takeover,” and posted a graphic on Twitter using the NBA’s All Star 2021 logo.
Atlanta attorney Chuck Clay says, “Any businesses who choose to ignore police warnings about gun violence during All Star Weekend, may have knowingly put their customers at risk, particularly if they failed to account for the larger crowds and increased dangers that naturally accompany big events. Responsible owners and property managers will provide additional security personnel or take additional precautions to protect patrons in and outside of event venues.”
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that police said, “We’re waiting for neighboring businesses to open to see if there’s any video surveillance that might have caught a glimpse of the incident.” The adequacy of Josephine Lounge’s overall security will include whether it had even a basic video security system in place and operational.
Police can only do so much to prevent violent crime. Georgia law, however, provides a way for the survivors of violent crimes to hold property owners and managers accountable when they fail to take reasonable steps to keep their patrons safe from known threats.
The police have no suspects currently, and that means the victims of this crime may never get justice in a criminal court. However, if they choose, they can use the civil justice system to hold the property and business owners accountable. Not only will they have the potential to get a financial recovery for their injuries, but they will put pressure on the responsible parties to make changes that can prevent similar acts of violence from happening on their property in the future. In this way, we can help make Atlanta safe.