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City officials: USC needs to do more to curb Five Points violence

Watch Martha Childress testify in the 2015 trial of Michael Juan Smith

In 2013, USC freshman Martha Childress was paralyzed after errant gunfire from Michael Juan Smith in Five Points. In 2015, Smith was convicted of attempted murder.
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In 2013, USC freshman Martha Childress was paralyzed after errant gunfire from Michael Juan Smith in Five Points. In 2015, Smith was convicted of attempted murder.

City of Columbia officials on Monday called on the University of South Carolina to do more to curb violence in Five Points.

City council member Daniel Rickenmann said the university’s police force should help city police and county sheriff’s deputies patrol the urban village near the USC campus.

“The university has been hypocritical on this,” he said at a press conference called by Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook to address gun violence citywide. “If they can write a speeding ticket by the Gervais Street bridge why can’t they patrol Five Points?”

The call comes after a high school girl was shot outside the Five Points Chick-fil-A early Sunday morning. The 17-year-old was hospitalized after she was hit by gunfire in the leg at about 1:30 a.m. She was later released from care.

The early Sunday shooting was eerily similar to the 2013 shooting of USC student Martha Childress that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Childress, then a freshman, was waiting for a taxi with friends near the Five Points fountain — about a block away from the Chick-fil-A — when an errant bullet fired in a nearby fight hit her in the back.

Holbrook, without being specific, said the university should “try something different” to help keep its students safe in the shopping and entertainment district.

“We’ve got to find something besides putting under-aged kids on a bus and driving them to Five Points,” he said. “That is going to be the downfall of the whole village.”

University spokesman Jeff Stensland said that although the weekend shooting occurred before the fall semester started and no USC students were involved, school officials are concerned about safety in areas where students gather.

He said the school has taken several steps to improve student safety, which include providing three dedicated officers to assist the Columbia Police Department during the school year; increasing staffing of the university police department to enhance crime prevention and add bicycle patrols of campus and corridors leading to Five Points; and working with the city to create a single drop-off and pick-up point for ride share services and a late night shuttle.

No suspects or motive has been identified in the early Sunday shooting, Holbrook said Monday..

The girl was wounded outside the fast-food chicken restaurant at 901 Harden St. after it had closed for the evening. It is near several bars and restaurants popular with USC students.

Classes at the state’s flagship university begin next week.

Officers patrolling Five Points responded to a crowd in front of the Chick-fil-A after hearing two gunshots, police said.

Holbrook said the shots originated not in Five Points, but from a parking lot on nearby Pine Street, a block east of Harden Street.

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The police were also alerted to Sunday’s shooting by the department’s new ShotSpotter technology, which was used in evaluating the ballistic evidence to determine the teen was randomly shot, Holbrook said.

Holbrook was joined by Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and SLED narcotics chief Frank O’Neal.

The chief rattled off a litany of gun crimes that have occurred just this month, and attributed much of it to gang violence. He also renewed calls for the General Assembly to tighten the state’s gun laws.

He noted that a third-time shoplifter can be sent to prison for 10 years, “but with guns, nothing.”

The shooting comes on the heels of the March abduction and murder of USC student Samantha Josephson, who hopped in what she though was an Uber driver’s car in Five Points.

Jeff Wilkinson has worked for The State for both too long and not long enough. He’s covered politics, city government, history, business, the military, marijuana and the Iraq War. Jeff knows the weird, wonderful and untold secrets of South Carolina. Buy him a shot and he’ll tell you all about them.
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