Two mob fights and a random shooting within a two-hour span early Sunday have led to an emergency meeting this afternoon between Columbia police and leaders in Five Points.
“We want to find out why this is happening and what we can do to stop it,” said Merritt McHaffie, executive director of the Five Points Association.
In the past few years, violence has become an increasing problem in Five Points. The city has tried to control it with a number of efforts, including a teen curfew, a 2 a.m. bar closing rule and a specialized hospitality task force made up of police, fire inspectors and building code officials.
Police mostly have been responsive to the Five Points Association’s requests for help, but the latest string of incidents has the group concerned the department does not have the resources to fix the problem.
McHaffie said merchants in the high-profile entertainment district mostly were concerned with the random shooting that happened at 1:13 a.m. Sunday on the 800 block of Harden Street near the Rite Aid drug store.
Officers reported hearing multiple shots and ran to the scene where they detained at least four people in the area, according to a Columbia police incident report. Multiple witnesses told police they saw a Ford pickup truck flee the scene by turning onto Pavillion Street from Harden Street.
Police recovered nine .40-caliber shell casings in the drug store parking lot, the report said.
A man at the scene told police that the four men who sped away in the truck had knocked him to the ground and stolen his wallet. said he heard the gunfire just moments after the suspects left him, according to the incident report.
Several of the bullets hit a woman’s car, causing damage to the back windows and the front passenger headrest, the report said.
The shooting sent people running throughout the area, which was crowded after a sold-out home football game that resulted in a conference victory for the sixth-ranked University of South Carolina Gamecocks.
An assault that happened about 45 minutes after the gunfire also has received attention on social media.
At 2 a.m., a man was assaulted by a group of seven to 10 other men in the 700 block of Harden Street near Pop’s N.Y. Pizza and Bey’s, a bar. In that report, witnesses told police that the man walked out of one of those establishments when the group of about 10 men attacked him.
The group pushed the victim against a door and punched him until he fell, according to the incident report. Once he was on the ground, one or two of the attackers continued to kick him in the head and chest. All of the attackers ran away just before police arrived, the report said.
The victim had severe cuts and extreme swelling on his face and possible damage to his skull, the report said. He was taken to Palmetto Health Richland.
That was not the first group assault of the night.
Another man went to the hospital for treatment of a broken arm he said he received when a group of eight punched him in an attack outside a bar in the 700 block of Harden Street, according to a police incident report. Police were called to the hospital to take the report.
The man told officers that he and a friend were bumped by two other men about 12:40 a.m. as they were walking in front of the bar. That led to a verbal confrontation, according to the incident report.
As the victim turned to walk away, one of the other men punched him in the back of the head. Then, others joined in the fight, the man said. A witness told police that the victim guarded his face with his arms and never fell or lost consciousness in the attack.
McHaffie said she had heard about the fights and that her association was looking through security camera footage to help police with their investigation. She and other Five Points merchants were waiting on additional information on the assaults before reacting, she said.
“The minute you say some poor kid got beat up in Five Points that’s when you hear a different story, that maybe he brought it on himself,” McHaffie said. “Not that we want anyone to be hurt.”
Five Points merchants are not necessarily angry with Columbia police over their approach to safety in the area, McHaffie said. Whenever the association asks the police department for extra patrols or an increase in officers, they get it, she said.
On Saturday night, police had 20 officers in the area, she said. Several business owners reported seeing officers patrolling in pairs throughout the night.
McHaffie said she wants to know what else can be done to stop the gunfire.
“I think they have a huge problem before them and I don’t think they have the tools to fix it,” she said.
Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott could not be reached Monday night for comment.
McHaffie said she did not want the media to attend the meeting because she wants police and business owners to speak frankly and freely about the problems.
“Everybody needs to be completely honest,” she said. “We’ve got to get this under control.”