After a fourth shooting death this year outside a corner store in the city, Albany officials are taking steps to close the business.
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan says the city is filing a nuisance complaint against a West Hill business at 36 Judson Street... "...also known as the Delaware Grocery. It's been the site of three shooting deaths in its vicinity in the last year most recently on December 7. We've had a number of complaints regarding activity in and around that that particular location. And it was also the site of a deadly shooting on October 14 of this year, and on December 10 of 2018."
Common Councilor Jahmel Robinson represents the 5th Ward. "So in 2018 3rd ward Councilwoman Joyce Love and I held a meeting with business owners, specifically, those who had prevalence to violence around their areas to find out what the issues were, what are the community expectations and also to offer our assistance."
Robinson says the Delaware Grocery owners were at the meeting but ignored the council members’ efforts to assist.
Sheehan characterizes the corner store as a "magnet for trouble," noting that when she went door-to-door to speak with residents after the latest homicide, every person said it should be shut down. "There's been a corner store there for as long as anybody can remember. And it was not a magnet for trouble. Councilmember Love might not like me sharing the story, but she remembers as a child going out there and making snow angels on the block. And we need to ensure that the families that live there now have that ability. And right now they don't. They're afraid. They keep their children inside. They keep themselves inside. They're incredibly grateful for the new streetlights because they feel safer. It is brighter, we've done what we committed to doing and we still have a homicide. We have to do something more. The residents of that neighborhood deserve it."
Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins: "We've devoted so many resources to addressing this issue and we have to figure out a way to address these issues in a way where it's not draining the resources of the city."
Sheehan contends Delaware Grocery failed to take any measures to discourage violence, that the city reviewed all of the facts and determined the right avenue to take in this case is to petition the Board of Zoning Appeals to shutter the store in line with Albany’s nuisance abatement ordinance.
Delaware Grocery’s Faisal Nagi tells WAMC the owner is out of the country, in Yemen, trying to get his family out of the war-torn country and is unable to meet with city officials. Nagi says the store provides police with video footage on a weekly basis. He adds they intend to hire an attorney to protect the business.
Derrick Hogan, an attorney with Tully Rinckey, says it is not necessarily incumbent upon a business owner to control the actions of its clientele. "If I was that business owner, I would fight that vigorously because they can't control who comes to their store and who doesn't. And, you know, we're talking about someone's family. And I understand that I, I certainly am sympathetic to the victims of any families that have been involved in issues around there. But then again, you know, I read somewhere where they asked the business owner to move the closing hours from 12 to 11. And he in fact, complied. So, you know, if he installed security cameras, and if there are issues, for example, say there's crime in that area, and law enforcement goes to him and says, 'hey, do you have any security footage' and he provides that, he's compliant with law enforcement. You know, I have an issue with the city trying to come in and crack down on someone's livelihood, someone's business if they're not contributing to that criminal activity."
Albany Commissioner of Planning and Development Chris Spencer says the nuisance complaint will be reviewed by the Board of Zoning Appeals. The store may remain open in the interim. There is no deadline for the board to make a decision, which would prohibit any convenience store from opening at that location for one year. Sheehan warns there could be additional shutdowns of businesses whose owners haven’t been cooperating with authorities.