As Larry Livingston begins a new chapter at a controversial Newhallville bar, the neighborhood’s top cop is turning on his flood lights, ticketing cars and trying to get a “head start” on violence, while the club considers a lawsuit in return..
Livingston (pictured), who’s 62, runs the Taurus Cafe at 520 Winchester Ave. in the heart of the Newhallville neighborhood.
As the neighborhood’s top cop makes an extra effort to prevent crime on that corner, Livingston claims he’s being “harassed” by police, and has retained Branford lawyer Ed Marcus to explore the possible lawsuit. Marcus has filed a Freedom of Infromation request with the city and last week notified the police chief of his plans.
Mayor John DeStefano has sought for years to shut down the club, calling it a nexus of “thuggery” that has “terrorized” the neighborhood. The club officially closed June 2007, when the state yanked Livingston’s liquor license. DeStefano vowed to keep it closed, but Livingston found a way to get state permission to reopen.
“I’m back open legally,” he said Friday. “I got my license.”
He quickly clarified that the official liquor license-holder is a woman named Paulette Moye, whom Livingston described as a friend. Livingston founded the club in 1984 and named it after his zodiac sign. He no longer owns the business; he handed it over to his daughter, Alesha Boyds.
The Taurus reopened Nov. 27 with Livingston as the “manager,” he explained in an interview Friday afternoon in the red-lit lounge.
After clearing state bureaucratic hurdles, he’s now facing with a new obstacle: The watchful eyes of a man named Thaddeus Reddish.
Reddish (pictured), who grew up in Newhallville, is now a lieutenant on the city police force. He took over two years ago as the top cop of that neighborhood’s police district. He has been familiar with the Taurus for decades, as it became notorious as a hotspot for drug-dealing, shootings and stabbings. The club sits in a six-block radius of Newhallville with one of the highest crime rates in the city, an area where community activists have been focusing an anti-crime campaign.
Now that the club has reopened, Reddish has made a point to keep a close watch over it. In February he began an aggressive campaign to enforce what he calls “quality of life” violations in the immediate area. In an interview Friday, he recounted his effort to get ahead of crime in the area, in a neighborhood that’s close to his heart.
Reddish said in his travels through Newhallville, lots of people would “walk up to me and complain about the Taurus.” The club is tucked into a mostly residential part of town. Clubgoers would block neighbors’ driveways with their cars. When the club let out, patrons would talk loudly, disperse into dark streets, often with fighting and gunfire. Reddish said the problems culminated in a double-shooting earlier this year. One man was shot in the hand, the other in the leg. The shooting took place farther down Thompson Street after the club let out, he said.
Reddish said when he was assigned to manage a “suppression detail” aimed at curbing crime, he decided the Taurus would be a good home base on Friday and Saturday nights. Cops park their cars nearby at the start of the shift, go to other calls as needed, and return around midnight to monitor the bar closing.
The detail focuses on “quality of life” complaints, like the cars that are parked in front of or sometimes in neighbors’ driveways, Reddish said. Cops have handed out dozens of parking tickets for clubgoers’ cars in bus stops and too close to driveways or street corners.
Reddish got the city to put in double-thick Jersey barriers and no trespassing signs in a city-owned lot next to the club, where patrons had been illegally parking their cars.
For the last couple of months, as the clock nears midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, cops have met back at the Taurus. Reddish parks in a driveway across the street. Other cops park nearby. They flood the area with overhead lights, which Livingston described as overpowering.
“People walking out have to cover their eyes,” said Livingston (pictured outside the club).
Reddish said the corner is otherwise very dark.
“We add lights so we can get a clear view of the group and the crowd coming out,” he explained. The lights and the police presence send a message to potential loiterers to get going. “Why would you want to stand around when a bunch of cops are just standing there?”
The club sits at the corner of Thompson Street and Winchester Avenue. Reddish said he blocks traffic on Thompson in order “to make it easier to monitor.” That limits traffic to Winchester, where cops can keep an eye out.
Reddish said the tactic has worked: “Everybody empties out without incident.”
He said neighbors are pleased. When he lets Thompson Street neighbors through to their homes, they give him a thumbs up.
“People come up to me and thank us for keeping it quiet.”
Back at the Taurus, Livingston had a different view. He said the stepped-up enforcement has cost him 50 percent of business at his club.
“We’re being targeted, that’s the bottom line,” said one regular patron (pictured), who gave his name only as Rev. He described himself as Livingston’s cousin.
Livingston said Reddish’s operation fits in with a pattern of “harassment” dating back at least four years.
Mayor DeStefano in 2007 launched a campaign to crack down on the Taurus and several other “problem bars.” In a tense series of hearings, neighbors and city officials lobbied the state to shut down the club on the grounds that it drew violent crime to the area. One of the few neighbors who came forward to testify was a woman who had moved into a Habitat for Humanity house across the street from the club. After she testified, Habitat got an anonymous phone call threatening to burn its offices down, according to city officials. The woman fled the house, which remains vacant to this day.
Livingston ended up losing his liquor license due to alleged tax and labor violations, not incidents of violence. When he continued to run what he called a “restaurant” in the club, the city arrested him for allegedly violating a cease and desist order. After a criminal trial that highlighted some poorly defined wording in city zoning regs, Livingston was found not guilty of the charges. He said he did not continue to run the business after that for fear of more “harassment.”
Mayor DeStefano vowed to block him from reopening last November, but was unable to.
Back in the Taurus, Livingston defended his business. He said his patrons, most of whom live in Newhallville, come in the early evening to play chess and watch sports on seven televisions. Some play pool. Later at night, a younger crowd from 21 to 30 hits the dance floor. The club has a CD player and a computer with iTunes that plays hip-hop and R&B.
Livingston said some amount of crime outside the bar is inevitable.
“This is Newhallville, the poorest community in New Haven,” Livingston said. “You’re going to have crime, not because of the bar, but because of poverty.”
Livingston said he used to go to the club as a teenager in the ‘60s when it was run by two Italian-Americans. He saw a shootout inside the bar, and a friend of his got “cut up.”
The Taurus isn’t like that anymore, Livingston vowed. He said there have been no violent incidents inside the club since he reopened. Livingston said he’s in the process of mounting 30 surveillance cameras to add security at the club; eight have already been installed. He pointed to a metal detector at the door, which he said he installed in 2007. He said the club has a woman who pats down customers for weapons, and several bouncers are stationed throughout the club.
Rev said the club shouldn’t be judged on past performance.
“This is a new day,” he declared.
He showed up to the interview wearing a large black shirt with the Warner Brothers logo.
“If you see da police, Warn a Brother,” read the sparkling silver letters.
The same motto is posted on a sticker over the threshold to the club.
Livingston said he used to hire two extra-duty cops for security. At least one testified on his behalf at the state liquor hearings. But since the city eliminated extra-duty “hold-downs,” Livingston can no longer pick the cops at his door. He said he stopped hiring any police officers, because he’s worried that a cop from Reddish’s crew, a cop who he feels is “harassing us,” might get rotated in for the job.
Plus, added Rev, “What’s the need to hire cops if they’re already out there?”
Rev called the crackdown unfair. He pointed out that Toad’s Place recently had a shooting inside the club, and was also cited for serving booze to minors. He said Bambaata Carr, who died after being stabbed 13 times during a brawl inside the downtown Sinergy Club, was his nephew. He suggested police pay more attention to those clubs instead.
“Why they don’t shine the lights on them?”
Livingston raised the question of whether, as a black bar manager, he’s being targeted for the color of his skin. Reddish, who’s also black, dismissed the charge.
Reddish said the tactics he is using to monitor the club closing are the same ones used downtown: Closing side streets, controlling traffic and being a strong presence so clubgoers clear the area and go home.
“If I ran that area [downtown], I would be doing the same thing,” Reddish said. He said he has also cracked down on illegally parked cars outside more upscale joints like L’Orcio and Goodfellas on State Street, on the other side of his district in East Rock.
On the heels of a shootout on Crown Street, cops began cracking down on downtown clubs last fall, in some cases too aggressively.
Reddish said he’s working hard to prevent crime in Newhallville, rather than waiting to react to it.
Keeping the streets cleared of illegally parked cars makes room for emergency vehicles to pull up, if they are ever needed.
“I’m trying to prepare for any worst-case scenario,” he said.
Livingston said he has retained lawyer Ed Marcus to start gathering information and look into the possibility of a lawsuit against the city. (His previous lawyer, Rabbi David Avigdor, is facing legal trouble.) Marcus filed a Freedom of Information request with the city on April 12, and a followup letter to the chief of police on May 3.
The letter contends that New Haven police have “consistently” “interfered with the normal operation of the Taurus Cafe,” by closing off Thompson Street, monitoring the club, and shining “high-beam lights” on the entrance.
“I do not know whether you have personally authorized the above,” Marcus wrote, but he “felt that before this office takes any further action relative to this matter that this letter should be provided to you, to afford you the opportunity to respond.”
Limon said Friday he had not seen the letter, and therefore declined comment through a spokesman.
Meanwhile, Reddish continued to put a bright light on the club over the weekend, and said he plans to continue to do so “as long as I’m allowed to.”
Looking ahead to the summer, he said he’s getting a “head start” on violence around that corner. “I didn’t want to wait until something majorly bad [happens] out there.”
Past stories on the Taurus Cafe:
• Mayor Takes Aim At Taurus
• Taurus Cafe Owner Found Not Guilty
• Taurus Owner Takes The Stand
• Taurus Goes On Trial
• Taurus Seeks To Rise Again
• Newton: Bars Unfairly “Targeted”
• State Blocks Taurus Club
• Man Shot Near Taurus; Living Room Crashed
• Habitat Suspends Plans Near Taurus
• Habitat Flees Newhallville Block
• City: Threats Intimidate Would-be Taurus Witnesses
City Clamps Down On Truancy, Guns