A man was shot in the head Saturday night at a North Avenue liquor store that has been the target of frequent complaints by neighbors and was ordered shut down earlier this year by the Baltimore liquor board.
The unidentified victim was pronounced dead inside Linden Bar and Liquors. No one else was injured in the shooting, police said. The store is on a block known for drug activity and violence, and drug dealing was common inside the store, said Stephan Fogleman, chairman of the liquor board, and residents of nearby Reservoir Hill.
Police and residents had urged the store's owner, Chang K. Yim, to hire a security guard and take other measures to keep dealers from congregating inside his store in the 900 block of W. North Ave. Yim installed lights outside but did not take other suggestions to improve safety, said City Councilman William H. Cole IV, whose district includes the store.
"Everybody saw this coming because it has just been festering," said Cole, who met with Yim twice in the past year. "This was preventable. If he had taken the actions the Police Department and others had asked of him, I dare say this tragedy might have been prevented."
In April, the liquor board was presented with a petition signed by more than 300 residents of Reservoir Hill to have the store shut down. The board also heard from Maj. John Bailey, the Central District commander, who said that officers had to make 45 stops at the store in the previous year and that it was "the worst liquor store-type establishment I have in the district."
The liquor board refused to renew Yim's license and ordered the store closed. But Yim, who has owned the store since 2003, appealed to the Circuit Court, which allowed the store to remain open pending a hearing, set for Sept. 23. Yim could not be reached for comment yesterday and his attorney, Richard Bittner, did not return phone messages.
Police were called to the store about 10:15 Saturday night. Officer Troy Harris, a police spokesman, said two men in the store were involved in a dispute when one of them pulled out a handgun and shot the other man in the head. The gunman fled the store and police began to canvass the area.
The man was spotted in the 2200 block of Linden Ave., Harris said. When an officer ordered the gunman, who was running, to stop, the man turned and fired at the officer, Harris said. The officer was not hit and returned fire. The man fled and was apparently not injured in the exchange of gunfire, Harris said.
The gunman was still at large yesterday.
Liquor board inspectors went to the store yesterday morning and ordered it closed immediately. Yim agreed to voluntarily close the store, Fogleman said. He said the shooting was not surprising and confirmed the board's worst fears - and its reasoning for ordering the store shut in April.
"We felt the situation was dangerous at best, and we didn't want to see any more criminal activity at the Linden Lounge," Fogleman said. He said he expects the store to remain closed for the near future, at least. He said Yim can sell his liquor license but that whoever buys it cannot use it at the North Avenue location.
Joe Lazazzera, secretary of the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council, said the area around North Avenue and Linden Avenue has been a "hotbed" of drug activity for years but that the situation has worsened since last fall. In April, police said there had been two shootings, a stabbing, a robbery and two assaults on the block since the previous May.
"It's a place where nefarious stuff happens," Lazazzera said of Linden Bar and Liquors, which sold liquor and groceries but, according to Cole, did not have a functioning bar, a violation of state liquor law. "We believed as a community that if we shut down the [bar], then at least we would make an inroad into some of the bad stuff going on."
He said he wasn't surprised by the shooting. "What happened [Saturday] night - it's like, how many more times does this have to happen before we figure out there's a problem here?"
Cole said he met with Yim in mid-December and again about a month later to express concerns from the community and police about drug activity inside the store. Yim responded by moving up his closing time 45 minutes, to 1:15 a.m.
"I wanted to give him the opportunity to make the necessary changes to keep his business open," Cole said. "But if you're a nuisance to the community and dangerous to the community, then something has to happen. It really is a shame because he was given very specific steps that he should have taken, and he simply refused to do so."