Firefight fall-out: Police ready for "aggressive" action at Elks Lodge

More than two weeks after a late-night shootout on Second Street NW outside the Elks Lodge left two men shot and wounded on the street, police say no charges have been filed and the investigation is still ongoing. There's been neither widespread public outcry nor city action concerning the violence, but internally police and city officials have taken notice.

"The City Manager and I have had no fewer than two meetings in the last week or so to discuss how to go forward with this in an aggressive, but lawful manner," says Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo.

According to data from the Charlottesville Police Department, the March 16 incident, which occurred as a crowd exited a Friday night party at the Lodge, is the latest in a long history of mayhem outside the Elks Lodge, located next door to Fellini's #9 restaurant. In 2011 alone, there were 54 police calls to that address for a variety of charges including assault, larceny, disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, and drug violations. Since 2008, according to the data, there have been roughly 150 police calls to service to that location.

Not to be confused with the "Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks," the "Improved Benevolent Protective Order of the Elks," of which the Rivanna Lodge #195 is an affiliate, is an African-American fraternal organization modeled on the BPOE, which originally denied membership to blacks. The BPOE opened membership to African-Americans in the 1970s, but the two organizations have remained separate. According to city records, the Rivanna Lodge #195 purchased the property on Second Street NW in 1920 for $3,000. Today, the two-story, 2,400-square-foot building and the lot it sits on is assessed at $441,000.

"Our discussions have not been limited to the Elks club," says City Manager Maurice Jones, alluding to other recent violent incidents in the city, such as the March 25 brawl outside Buffalo Wild Wings during which shots were fired and two men were stabbed. "However," Jones adds, "we will be reaching out to the owners of the club to discuss what may be done to reduce the calls for service there."

Repeated messages left for Elks Lodge management have not been returned.

Dr. M. Rick Turner, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, says that feelings are mixed among the African-American community in Charlottesville regarding the Elks Club.

"Some think we should get rid of the place," he says, "while others think its a great social outlet in the Downtown area."

Turner also reminds a reporter that violence outside clubs and restaurants is not just an Elks Club issue, but a city-wide issue, as such incidents happen at other places as well.

"The Elks Club on Second Street is a Charlottesville institution," says Charles Alexander, one of the "Charlottesville 12," the first group of black students to enter all-white schools in 1959, who is now a motivational speaker. "When I couldn't play basketball for Lane High School, it was the Elks team I played for at Carver Rec."

Alexander says that the the Elks Club has been invaluable to the community for many years, and that its unfortunate that the focus on this one event diminishes that. The problem, he says, is "people rage."

"People are on the edge, and we're all walking time bombs these days," he says," no matter what your skin color or where you are. This kind of thing could happen just as easily at Fellini's or anywhere else."

According to a search warrant filed in Charlottesville Circuit Court, during the March 16 incident, police believe that Leon T. Brock, 22, of Culpeper County, was shot by Frank D. Brown, 56, of Albemarle County, after Brock and several other men tried to jump him. Charlottesville Police Officer Alex Bruner, who happened to be on the scene, allegedly fired his weapon at Brown twice after warning him to drop his weapon. Brown and Brock survived their wounds and were released from the UVA Medical Center. Bruner remains on administrative leave pending the investigation.

Such incidents are not unfamiliar to Jacie Dunkle, owner of Fellini's #9 restaurant. On New Year's Eve 2011, as a party was held at the Elk's Lodge, a man was shot in front of the nearby Brown's Lock on Market Street. Dunkle and her customers had to stay in her restaurant until 4am as police gathered evidence. She's had plenty of other problems with parties at the Elks Lodge.

"Fighting is part of the norm on Friday nights when there is a party there, and there's a lot of drinking," says Dunkle. "I have to call the police at least two Fridays every month due to some fight or disturbance that threatens my employees and customers."

After such incidents, Dunkle says, it quiets down considerably at the Elks Lodge, as police pay closer attention, but eventually the vigilance diminishes, and the "mayhem starts again," she says.

This time, however, it appears that the police and the City may take more aggressive action. Chief Longo says he has been meeting with ABC representatives and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office to discuss a strategy to more definitively deal with this issue, but there has been no decision yet on what that strategy will be. 

Currently, the Elks Lodge has an active Beer on Premise license, according to Maureen Haney with the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

"This means that they may sell only beer to their customers who are consuming it in the club," says Haney. "They may not sell wine or mixed beverages, and they may not sell beer to be taken away from the club." Guests can, however, legally bring in their own alcohol, says Haney, "as long as the club has some form of license such as a beer license."

"It's imperative that we deal with this," says City Councilor Kristen Szakos. "The property owners have a responsibility to control such events, and obviously that's not happening."

Dunkle says she's putting up cameras in hopes of deterring the violence, but she thinks it really comes down to the personal responsibility of those who attend Elks Lodge events, and the responsibility of the property owners who allow it. Dunkle says she's tried to start a dialogue with Elks president Pete Carey, but so far that dialogue has not been productive, she says.

"I think we need to require them to have security at such events," suggests Szakos. "It's not the job of the police to be security guards for parties."

"It's a touchy issue," says Turner. "How responsible should restaurant and club owners be for what happens outside, when members and customers leave?"

Still, because of the history of incidents at the club, and the fear that such shootings cause in the community, Turner thinks it's time to talk.

"I think a discussion needs to take place with the Elks members, the surrounding property owners, and the wider community," he says.


The Elks have a security camera outside their 2nd story window pointed at the street below.

In all fairness how about listing other restaurants, clubs, and businesses that have had say double figure calls to the police in 1 year. 54 calls in one year is excessive and should not be tolerated.

As usual, Rick Turner--a supposedly educated adult--takes the juvenile "Johnny does it too!" position. And Alexander echoes this.
No, Rick, before you open your cakehole, please check the quantity of calls at other venues around the city versus the number of incidents at that location. Does Miller's have one call per week...two calls? They are open every night. What about Buffalo Wild Wings? Does the Elks call volume occur only during large gatherings, parties, etc.?

And I love Alexander's quote: "This could happen at Fellini's or anywhere else..." Patently ridiculous. Literally, yes...someone could get shot anywhere. In the context of this story, idiotic.

What these two men are doing is really, at its base, racist. They are attempting to (not so subtlely) deflect a problem that seems to be systemic in a black establishment by hinting that the problem could happen anywhere. And why would they do this? How come, when repeated problems at a known outlaw biker bar are addressed, bikers don't jump up and say: "Why don't you go after the black people? They assault each other too."

The inference in Turner's and Alexander's comments is that the hubbub is being created because the Elks is a black establishment. The classic "well if you are going to look at this black bar, then you need to look at everyone else" argument.

Also, interesting that Officer Bruner is still on leave, three weeks after the incident.

R.I.P.: J. Edgar Hoover

Yeah, these sorts of things never happen at Rapture.

As my road dog, IceDogg, said: "Nothin' good happens after midnight." And as the late, great prophet (Da Muscle) said, "Ain't nuthin' out there for ya boy."

I can't remember the name of the place, but someone was killed (beaten to death if I recall correctly) right outside of the nice little restaurant that occupied the spot where Bizou is now. It can happen anywhere.

white america has found a way to shut down other black party places.why b surprized at this one.

I understand Mr. Alexander saying "...people are raging..." but it comes down to civic responsibility. Don't shoot anyone! Especially when you have just consumed mass quantities of alcohol. Don't go to your car and get your gun and shoot someone. And saying it could even happen at Fellini's - seriously? It hasn't because for some strange reason 95% of guests at my restaurant know how to behave - and they don't shoot each other! I don't need to have a metal detector at my front door. If someone is causing problems I kick them out and call the police. And why is it the Elks have a non-working security camera outside their window? Hook that thing up! Get a reality check as to what is going on when you kick the drunk people out and lock your door.

Seriously, gregg? That's your takeaway from this? Wow.

As Mike suggests above, this article's glaring omission (that the writer should have included or his editor should have told him to include) are stats on the number of calls to other 'hotspots' for violence in town, so we can have some perspective on the relative frequency of disturbances.

I guess the "Improved" Elks club means they carry larger caliber weapons. I think they should put bulletproof glass around they perimeter of the club and sell tickets to watch the festivities falling out into the street every friday night. Let Darwin sort it all out. Save the tax payer a bundle from digging munitions out of these idiots.

"People are on the edge, and we're all walking time bombs these days," he says," no matter what your skin color or where you are. This kind of thing could happen just as easily at Fellini's or anywhere else."

What a crock o' elk malarkey!!

OK, some people may be on edge, but really,why have such hair triggers? As I said in the movie to my new bootcampers, "Lighten up, Francis." No disagreement is worth ruining your own and someone else's life over. Try to show a little aloha, my braddahs.