Jacksonville neighbors demand shutdown of 2 problem motels and more police

Article Courtesy of  The Jacksonville Times-Union

By Dan Scanlan

Published November 25, 2020


The signs were held high Monday morning by people demanding change on a short stretch of Harts Road that's seen seven fatal shootings at or near two motels this year, the latest one on Saturday.

They joined City Council members and other community leaders in a new effort to close the Gold Rush Inn and River City Inn after that and other violence occurred at the gateway to their neighborhoods.


What's happening at the motels is a "bad thing" for those living in all the neighborhoods north of the motels, Oakley Point Homeowners Association president Jay Williams said. As neighbors walked nearby with with signs saying "Shut them down" and "We Need Change," he hopes to organize their homeowners associations to add to efforts begun on Monday to get more police protection.

"These are the first thing that people see when they come to our homes and see what is happening up and down Harts Road and it is not a good picture," Williams said. "... We start a petition drive. It's good what they are doing here, but they need to hear from the grassroots, the people who live in the community."

Joining the protests was City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, who gathered fellow lawmakers, clergy and city officials to demand more police presence and the closure of the motels as he works toward longer-term solutions.


"We are darned tired, and we as leaders need to do something," Gaffney said. "... We are looking at problems. We are looking at killings. The long-term solution is intervention, prevention and jobs creation. If these people had a job; if they had other means to not just turn to drugs, prostitution and other crimes, you wouldn't have these problems."

No one was available for comment at the River City Inn, while Gold Rush Inn managers will not be available until after Thanksgiving, according to staff.

Gaffney met in front of a shuttered gaming parlor near the motels as 20 neighbors waved signs at motorists in the 10000 block of Harts Road. That area just north of Dunn Avenue has been the scene of three homicides alone in the past six months alone, according to Sheriff's Office records. Gaffney also handed out a Sheriff's Office list of 800-plus police calls made since January to the Gold Rush Inn alone for incidents ranging from domestic violence and suicides to armed assaults and homicides.

The latest homicide was at about 5:15 a.m. Saturday, when a 34-year-old man was found dead at with a gunshot wound inside a crashed car on Harts Road at Dunn Avenue, police said. A witness told Times-Union news partner First Coast News that a blue vehicle sped away from the Gold Rush Inn right before the crash, right after about 20 gunshots were heard.

On June 23, two men were shot dead while trading gunfire outside the Gold Rush, one determined to be a justifiable homicide, while the other victim was murdered, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Officers were called out about 1:30 a.m. that morning to the motel after reports of a shooting to find two men in the parking lot, each shot multiple times, the Sheriff’s Office said. Investigators believe the two men began arguing outside the motel, then started shooting at each other.

On Sept. 30, one person was killed after a shooting in the 10800 block of Harts Road at about 4:40 p.m., police said. On May 21, one man was killed following a shooting at the Gold Rush Inn just north of Dunn Avenue, police said. A Jan. 21 officer-involved shooting was reported near the motel that left one man dead and another injured during a Sheriff’s Office undercover operation, Chief T.K. Waters said. Officers met three suspects, one of whom pulled out a gun, Waters said, The officers told the suspect to drop the gun, but he refused and several shots were fired, Waters said. Two of the men were hit, one dying at the scene, police said.

Gaffney said he will ask the Sheriff's Office to increase patrols in the motel area to constantly patrol the motel area to ensure a "presence seven days a week." He is also working with city and state officials to shut the motels down. And he said he plans to work with the Sheriff's Office to install security cameras near the motels.

"We should have done this years ago. We need eyes so we can know exactly what is going on," Gaffney said. "I want to make sure we clean up this part of Harts Road. ... I am going to ask the sheriff to increase his presence until we solve the long-term problems."

Others joined Gaffney at a podium to decry the violence in the area and demand that the city take action.

Duval County School Board Vice Chairman Darryl Willie lives in a neighborhood north of the motels, saying crime-fighting and prevention efforts have to increase there. He says he worries about children he sees walking past the motels daily to and from schools, knowing how bad things are because drives past them daily with his children.

"I think about what they have to see and I have to explain what's happening every time we pass by this area. That's enough, and that's not even talking about all the murders and suicides going on inside these buildings," Willie said. "We can do better. We have to do better."

Saying you "see the walking dead" outside those motels if you drive by them late at night, The Rev. Michael Jackson said cars were vandalized and broken into at his church at 11046 Harts Road recently. And as a resident who lives a half-mile from the motels, he said that if the mayor and sheriff "love us on this side of town," send more police and help them shut the motels down.

"We are saying enough is enough," the Springhill Missionary Baptist Church pastor said. "... We have two to three entities within this community that need to be shut down. And by the grace of God, they will be shut down."

City Council Vice Chairman Samuel Newby and fellow council member Ju'Coby Pittman also joined the others in speaking out. And Sheriff's Office Lt. Shawn McCormick spoke with Gaffney and Jackson after the news conference about their concerns, but could not comment on it.

Gaffney said protests to shut the motels will continue from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, adding they will "come back until we see change."