Banquet hall shooting reignites liquor license battle

The battle for The River's liquor license

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - The City of Cape Girardeau is making a second attempt to revoke the liquor license at a South side business as the owner and his lawyer prepare a defense.

The decision comes after a shooting on Sunday Jan. 26 inside the River Valley Banquet Center that law enforcement is still investigating.

According to the Cape Girardeau Police Department, five people were injured when an unknown suspect or suspects open-fired inside the building at 631 South Sprigg St. around 1 a.m.

Police said many people were inside the building when the shooting happened, but none of them are cooperating with the investigation.

In an official police report, Sgt. Joey Hann said the department supports revoking the liquor license at the banquet hall also know as “The River.”

On Wednesday Jan. 29, City Manager Scott Meyer sent out the official revocation notice to the business citing that the “licensee did permit or fail to prevent or suppress a violent quarrel, brawl, or fight on the premises.”

Mayor Bob Fox said the city is also planning to use it’s public nuisance ordinance, which has a three strike rule, to revoke the banquet hall’s business license.

“We’ve got to do what’s best for all the citizens of Cape and this is what’s best I think," Fox said.

Other instances of gun violence have happened outside the business including a recent shooting involving dozens of shell casings in April of 2019.

In response, Fox said police started closely watching the business during events, but still could not stop the most recent shooting.

“We as a city are tired of the violence. We’re tired of people getting shot," Fox said. "When you can make an impact on that and stop gatherings where it occurs, and they’ve been drinking and emotions change. It’s just something we’ve got to do.”

Attorney Ron Garms is representing Rick Werner, the owner of the south side business who is out of the country until Feb. 4 on a previously planned trip abroad.

“This is a racial profiling of a banquet center that is typically leased to African Americans. It’s the gathering spot south of Shawnee parkway,” Garms said. “I’m sure the city wished it weren’t there, but it’s been there a long time and my client can’t move his business.”

Garms thinks the city is unfairly using it’s nuisance ordinance to target the banquet hall instead of trying to solve the larger gun violence problem.

“The question becomes is my clients business a danger to the neighborhood, or is the neighborhood a danger to my client’s business. I submit it’s the second," Garms said. "You know they have a shooting on Clark street near the city pool and have to evacuate it. If that happens three times are they closing the pool?”

Garms added that Werner is cooperating with police and said he installed outdoor lighting, ‘no firearms’ signs, and video cameras at the banquet hall to increase safety.

Mayor Fox says they’re also looking at forming a law enforcement task force to combat violent crime in the region.

“It sometimes takes cooperation between not only our local police but the adjacent police forces, with the federal government, with the state highway patrol, with the sheriffs departments,” Fox said. "To be able to better cross lines and borders, to better investigate and at the same time involve the community more in trying to correct what is going on.”

The Executive Director of the organization, PORCH, People Organized to Revitalize Community Healing, said it can be for hard witnesses to come forward, but it’s necessary.

“It is really important to get finalization for these, the families of the victims so the people in the southside feel safe again,” said Julian Watkins.

So why is no one talking?

“In that community it is tough for people to come forward out of fear, judgement things like that,” said Watkins

The license dispute will first go in front of the Cape Girardeau liquor review board.

If it’s appealed again it will head to the circuit court.

“They will have to give sworn statements and testify under oath," Fox said. “They don’t do that at city council meetings or school board meetings but in court they do. So that really makes it a stricter process and a much fairer process.”

The business’ liquor license was not renewed in June after this incident.

However, after an appeal to the liquor licensing board and Cape Girardeau City Council, the license was renewed.

In the latest incident on Sunday, four officers were outside of the building when they heard gunfire. The officers quickly entered the building to help the wounded and to try to track down the shooter or shooters.

Hann said the officers likely saved lives, but dedicating the level of manpower to one specific location for hours every weekend is not economically feasible nor fair to the rest of the city.

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