Trenton bar investigated by AG’s office after second fatal shooting in 2014 occurred outside
The shooting death of a city man outside of a Trenton bar has drawn attention from the state Attorney General’s Office, which contacted the owner of the bar this week as part of an inquiry into the establishment’s practices, the owner said.
Martin Rodriguez, the owner of La Guira Bar, told The Trentonian he has spoken with someone from Alcoholic Beverage Control, a regulatory division of the Attorney General’s Office that oversees licensing and enforcement issues for New Jersey bars, in regards to the shooting death of 39-year-old Patrick Walker, who was gunned down outside the North Clinton Avenue establishment by an unknown assailant early Saturday morning.
Rodriguez offered few details about the conversation, and said he would have a better understanding of the extent of the Attorney General Office’s interest in the shooting when he speaks with them again after Christmas. But he admitted he is worried his bar is “in jeopardy” of being closed after its second shooting death in the last five months.
“It’s a tough position,” said Rodriguez, who, on top of the shooting, said he was just released from prison after serving a six-month sentence for driving under the influence. “I put my life into the bar. Everything is in limbo.”
Walker’s murder has prompted concern from city residents and a fellow bar owner about whether Rodriguez is doing enough to curb violence at his establishment. North Ward Councilwoman Marge Caldwell-Wilson said she was unaware of the recurring violence at La Guira, but she expects the bar will be sanctioned after the fatal shooting of Walker.
“I haven’t received complaints from the community there, so I wasn’t aware that there were issues going on,” Caldwell-Wilson said. “If there’s been numerous complaints against them and they involve the police, eventually it’s going to come before ABC, and penalties will be imposed.”
At this point, the level of participation from the Attorney General’s Office is unknown, and a spokesman declined to say if it has launched an investigation into La Guira, which was also where 20-year-old Enrico Smalley Jr. was killed in July after prosecutors said he was involved in a dispute with Shaheed Brown, 30, who was arrested and charged with murder.
A spokesman for the county prosecutor’s office also couldn’t say whether the AG division has been in touch with her office about requesting footage of the shooting obtained by detectives from Mercer County Homicide Task Force.
As part of the enforcement arm of the Attorney General’s Office, the Alcoholic Beverage Control, or ABC, works closely with police departments and has authority to take steps to shut down bars or impose other sanctions against bars that are considered “trouble spots,” AG spokesman Zach Hosseini said.
The ABC also ensures bars comply with a requirement that they have valid licenses to serve alcohol and properly display them on their premises. The ABC can recommend not renewing a bar’s license if the bar is deemed troublesome or has a history of violations, Hosseini said.
In this case, La Guira has only one minor violation from 2008, the same year Rodriguez took over the bar, for which it was issued a warning after officials determined the bar didn’t have proper documentation of its liquor license on site. They were also docked for not keeping a full list of employees, according to the ABC.
Beyond that, the bar has had several incidents of gun violence this year, leading Rodriguez to direct his bouncer to frisk people at the door for weapons, he said. That hasn’t always worked, and in March, 33-year-old convicted felon Rasheem Ingram was arrested and charged after his gun went off in the bar, leaving a single bullet hole in the ceiling.
Then there was Smalley’s murder, which prosecutors said happened sometime after Brown and Smalley met up outside the bar on July 12. Brown claims he didn’t shoot Smalley and only met with him to clear the air after someone had made an attempt on his life a week earlier at the same bar.
The bar was also the site of a street fight that led to a pair of police brutality lawsuits being filed against city cops and the indictment of officer Nidia Colon, who was charged last year with official misconduct for allegedly beating up a woman who attended a birthday party at the bar in February 2012.
The murders are only part of it for the owner of Ann’s Place, a bar that is across the street from La Guira. The owner of that establishment told the Trentonian she is worried about unsavory people congregating La Guira, and she and her husband have hired extra security on weekends because of the proximity to La Guira.
Speaking a day after The Treontonian ran a story detailing the bar’s recent problems, Rodriguez vowed to take steps to ensure no one else dies outside his establishment. But offered little in the way of details and said he cannot control his customers once they leave his establishment.
“What’s the right thing to do?” he said. “If I close at 10 p.m., I might as well give my license away. There’s too many guns in Trenton.”
Trentonian reporter Penny Ray contributed to this report.