City investigating businesses near Cathedral School as possible nuisances

Published 2:08 pm Thursday, October 29, 2020

NATCHEZ — City of Natchez officials are investigating businesses near Cathedral School where crimes have been frequently reported. Those businesses could be shut down if the problems are not addressed, officials said during a Tuesday meeting.

Parents, staff and administrators of Cathedral School attended the meeting where officials asked business owners to come forward and address crimes that reportedly occurred on their properties over several decades.

A shooting which that injured a victim on Oct. 19 at the “Shop and Save” convenience store on Martin Luther King Jr. and Aldrich streets in close proximity of Cathedral school, however, rattled many school personnel and prompted leaders to take action, they said in Tuesday’s meeting.

Owners and representatives of businesses including the Zipy Food Store at Martin Luther King Jr. and High streets, a former car wash on Martin Luther King Jr. Street and the convenience store on Martin Luther King Jr. and Aldrich streets where the Oct. 19 shooting occurred attended Tuesday’s meeting.

Natchez Attorney Tim Blalock, who represented the owner of the “Shop and Save” convenience store at Tuesday’s meeting, said the owner and employees requested help from law enforcement during prior incidents and nothing was done.

“His employees are terrified,” Blalock said. “Even with him (the owner) working behind the counter, all of these young people come in and they’ve got guns. He can tell they are hidden under their jackets and he calls the police or there is a cop who comes in and he says, ‘Can you please do something about this?’ and the cop says ‘No, I’m sorry. You are going to have to go downtown and fill out some paperwork.’”

Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong said, “That’s nonsense,” over the audience while Blalock spoke.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen unanimously passed a motion to allow City Attorney Bryan Callaway to investigate multiple businesses on North Martin Luther King Jr. Street for nuisances.

Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson said business owners whose businesses are found by the city attorney to be public nuisances would be required to submit a plan to improve security at their stores, including better lighting, security cameras and security guards all at the business owners’ expense.

Blalock said cameras are outside of the convenience store and the lights around the store had been shot out. The particular shooting outside his clients’ convenience store on Oct. 19 happened before sunset, Blalock said.

“I was out barbequing at the time. It doesn’t seem to matter,” Blalock said. “… I was sitting right here (in the Convention Center) about a month ago where we had a trial about a murder off of Lynda Lee … and it was all on camera. The people committing these crimes don’t care that they are on film. They don’t care that there is good lighting. They are going to do bad things anyway.”

Blalock said private security is meant to “fill in the blank when police can’t do what they are supposed to do.”

Gibson said the police department cannot be expected to act as private security for a few businesses on the taxpayers’ dime.

“I know that our police officers are responding because I’m making the calls to make sure that they are myself,” Gibson said. “We, unfortunately as taxpaying public, cannot be expected to pay the cost of private security for just a few businesses. That is not feasible.”

Alderman Billie Joe Frazier said crime has been an issue at the stores for years. While he was employed by the Natchez Police Department in 1990, Frazier said he was shot in his head at one of the conveniences stores.

The employees do not call law enforcement because “they want their money,” Frazier said.

Gibson said the city has received complaints of numerous other crimes occurring at the businesses in the area of North Martin Luther King Jr. Street, including illegal alcohol sales during school hours, loitering, drug activity, public urination and defecation and prostitution.

“All of that, if proven and investigated, would qualify your business as a public nuisance,” Gibson said.

Cathedral’s head administrator Norm Yvon and Rev. Mark Shoffner, assistant pastor at St. Mary’s Basilica, also spoke in Tuesday’s meeting and thanked officials for addressing the problems near the school.

“School doesn’t just run from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” Yvon said. “We were at a meeting at the school when the shooting happened and heard those shots at our meeting. About a half hour before (the shooting), our after school care was still in session so we had young kids at our elementary school. We had kids waiting to be picked up at our gymnasium and our football field. Any one of those bullets from a high-powered riffle with nothing in its path could travel a long way and hit an innocent person.”