Ybor City residents, business owners, police discuss next steps after shooting

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Weeks after a shooting left two dead and 16 others injured the weekend before Halloween in Ybor City, community members gathered to talk about public safety in Tampa’s historic neighborhood turned nightlife hub.

The town hall, moderated by Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw, comes less than two weeks after dozens of residents and business owners spoke at a Tampa City Council meeting to push back against a proposal to close Ybor bars at 1 a.m. for the next six months.

Tuesday night, some community members decried Ybor’s clustered bar scene, but other longtime residents said the neighborhood was still a safe place despite what happened last month.

Many of the two dozen who offered input to Bercaw, police officials and City Council members in attendance asked for more youth outreach efforts and fewer guns on the streets.

Dionne Neal, 53, moved to Tampa in 2019 so that her son Dyante could live with her and enroll in Hillsborough Community College to finish his associate’s degree.

In 2019, the 25-year-old student was punched and killed outside a bar on East Seventh Avenue in Ybor. Neal said she hoped to see a curfew for minors that would keep them off the streets late at night.

“I don’t want to see another Tay Tay,” she said.

Bercaw said dispatch calls and even the number of guns confiscated in Ybor doubles in the early morning hours compared to those before midnight. He said 34 guns were seized Monday night — 10 of them before midnight and 24 afterward.

“After midnight is the witching hour,” Bercaw said.

Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw, center, listens to Dionne Neal, 53, of Tampa, as she addresses her concerns during Town Hall Tuesday at Centro Asturiano de Tampa on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Tampa.

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On Oct. 29, an argument broke out in the early morning between two groups and shots rang out near the 1600 block of East Seventh Avenue, police say. Two were killed and 16 injured — 15 by gunfire.

While police have not released the victims’ names, citing Marsy’s Law, family members have identified both 14-year-old Elijah Wilson and 20-year-old Harrison Boonstoppel as the two people killed in the incident.

Police arrested Tyrell Phillips, 22, hours after the shooting. Phillips has since pleaded not guilty after prosecutors charged him with one count of second-degree murder with a firearm. Investigators are still looking for at least two additional shooters.

Eric Schiller, the owner of Gaspar’s Grotto, asked Bercaw to stop closing the streets when Ybor businesses close for the night.

“I feel like a broken record because I’ve said this same damn speech about every five years to as many people as I possibly can,” he said.

Eric Schiller, Gaspar’s Grotto owner, addresses his concerns to the police department during Town Hall Tuesday at Centro Asturiano de Tampa on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Tampa.

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Bercaw defended the decision to close the streets along Ybor’s bars when those businesses close. He said it allows the large wave of bargoers to exit safely without risk of being hit by a vehicle.

“That’s the million-dollar question is whether to leave the streets open or whether or not to,” Bercaw said. “There’s a sweet spot where we feel like we have to close them when the public is coming out of the nightclubs. The sidewalks can’t handle the volume.”

Niki Carraway, 44, of Brandon, said she regularly attends the Police Department’s Town Hall Tuesday events and the turnout Tuesday night was the largest she’d ever seen.

“What’s happening in our community is not a police problem and it’s not a club scene problem,” she said. “This is a community problem. And as a community, we have got to start to come together.”

She urged adults to check in with troubled young people.

“Our youth is our future,” she said. “And if we don’t do something about it, we’re going to lose them.”

Deputy Chief Calvin Johnson answers questions from the audience during Town Hall Tuesday at Centro Asturiano de Tampa on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Tampa.

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Calvin Johnson, the department’s deputy chief of community outreach, said this work starts at home.

“A lot of these shootings is within — like the chief said — about 10 or 15 seconds because somebody has not told their child to take a deep breath when you get upset. They haven’t had that conversation,” he said.

“I think that we’re doing everything that we can possibly do to help reduce gun violence. But what I don’t want you to leave here tonight with was thinking that your involvement doesn’t mean anything. We need you as ambassadors out there.”

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