Downtown business owner says he no longer feels safe after fatal shooting near his store

Two shootings at same corner in two nights

CINCINNATI – Mohammed Mahmoud has owned Variety Market on Vine Street in downtown Cincinnati for five years.

But after a fatal shooting Monday night and a triple shooting Tuesday night near the corner of Vine Street and Garfield Place a block from his store, he said he no longer feels safe.

“I don't know who has a gun and who doesn't,” Mahmoud said. “I don't feel safe to do business.”

Authorities say 25-year-old Joshua Lamar Taylor was shot multiple times just after 7 p.m. Monday near the entrance of the Garfield Suites Hotel and the James A. Garfield statue in Piatt Park. The scene is also a block from The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Taylor was pronounced dead during surgery at University of Cincinnati Medical Center later that evening.

The following night, three people were shot near the same intersection. Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said Tuesday night he "absolutely" believed the two shootings were related.

INTERACTIVE: Map shows Cincinnati homicides in 2013 and 2014

For Mahmoud, the recent shootings near his store are not only bad for business, but bad for the city he’s lived in for 14 years.

“People go to the hotel. They come to Cincinnati as tourists. What happened (Monday) night will keep people from visiting Cincinnati,” he said. “They won't feel safe."

In the hours after Monday's shooting, Cincinnati police said that incident was targeted and "personal."

Cincinnati Homicide Commander Lt. Dave Johnston said the event was “confined to two subjects and the person shot was the intended victim.”

Officials said Monday’s shooter, a man described as tall and thin, did not know Taylor.

Instead, the two men were strangers that began arguing after the shooter made negative comments about a woman walking with Taylor.

That’s when gunfire erupted.

Shooting scene near corner of Vine Street and Garfield Place | Photo by Amy Wadas

Central Business District commander Capt. Paul Broxterman said it’s difficult for officers to stop shootings like Monday's from happening.

“It’s important to realize that (Monday’s) events – there's not much police can do when you have a fast-evolving dispute between two individuals and someone pulls out a gun,” Broxterman said. “That’s just a hard issue for the police to have an impact on.”

Mahmoud said one of his biggest concerns about the recent downtown shootings was not only where they happened – but when.

He said he likes to keep his store open late for downtown crowds leaving work or grabbing dinner, but no longer feels comfortable doing that.

“Seven o'clock at night is not late and a lot of people come into the store and work around here,” Mahmoud said. “This makes me upset. I can't stay open late.”

Monday’s shooting was the first killing downtown since Aug. 3, 2013.

In that incident, 23-year-old Deandre Lewis was found shot to death in a vehicle in a parking lot in the 100 block of East Central Parkway at about 2:25 a.m. Police later arrested Jimi Glover in connection with the death.

According to data released by the city, violent crime in Cincinnati’s Central Business District is down 11 percent compared to this same period last year. These stats do not include this week's shootings.

There have been five shooting cases in the district this year, including Monday's and Tuesday's. In the three other incidents, Broxterman said the victim and the shooter knew each other.

“These are not random acts of violence that are occurring,” Broxterman said. “I'm not saying they don't ever. We've had some random robberies. But more often than not, there's a known relationship.”

Broxterman said there have also been many efforts to help improve any negative image portions of his district may have, including the area where Taylor was shot.

“I know it’s on the radar of say 3CDC and other developers to bring more business into that area,” he said. “I think as that happens, the area will become more vibrant and more people will be there – and it will lend itself to less crime.”

Non-violent crimes, like auto and property thefts, are up 18 percent in the district, compared to the same period in 2013.

As part of an effort to reduce crime, the city swore in 19 new lateral entry officers to the Cincinnati Police Department last week. These are officers who were previously employed at other law enforcement agencies across the state.

The new officers were not sent to the Central Business District because it was determined their efforts were needed in other portions of the city, Boxterman said.

“Basically, the chief and the senior command staff determine where personnel are going and it’s in areas where they're needed the most,” Broxterman said. “I don't think we needed more officers down here. We can always draw upon other districts if there's an issue. We have the support units that can come assist us, as well.”

In another effort to decrease crime at downtown festivities like Taste of Cincinnati and Bunbury Music Festival, Blackwell announced Tuesday that officers are not allowed to use vacation time during major events.

Homicides in Cincinnati have increased by about 8 percent, compared to this same period last year. Monday’s case is Cincinnati's 41st homicide of 2014. There were 37 homicides in the city between Jan. 1 and June 28 of 2013.

However, violent crimes this year have decreased citywide by about 20 percent, compared to the same period last year. That includes a 22 percent reduction in aggravated assaults, a 20 percent reduction in robberies and a 6 percent reduction in rapes. These stats do not include this week's shootings.

Despite the positive stats and the rare circumstances surrounding the recent shootings downtown, Mahmoud said he still doesn’t feel safe at his business.

He said he wants authorities to do more.

“I know police in Cincinnati do their best, but we need more police in the area all the time, especially behind the library,” Mahmoud said. “I like to live in Cincinnati but I like to feel safe first. If I don't feel safe, then I will leave Cincinnati.”

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