(Updated) It was past 2:30 a.m. Security guards were pushing the crowd out the door. Gunshots erupted outside when two groups of men confronted each other over an old dispute. The guards raced out, then rushed a bloody victim inside. They may have saved his life — and prevented a stampede.
That’s John F. Cox’s version of the violence that erupted early Sunday morning outside his seven-month-old hip-hop nightclub, Everybodeez Cafe & Lounge, on St. John Street.
Cox broke a 30-hour media silence Monday to offer his side of the story. (Click on the play arrow for excerpts.)
As investigators probe the incident — which sent four men to the hospital with serious gunshot wounds — Cox worries that his livelihood may be at stake.
“I’ve got to get a lawyer. I’ve got to get somebody to help me. This is crazy,” he said in an interview in the backyard of his home on the banks of the Quinnipiac River.
Hundreds of people came out for a “Sinful Saturday” show that ran until 2 a.m. Sunday at Everybodeez, which inhabits an abandoned factory building off Hamilton Street in an industrial zone between I-91 and the Mill River.
Cox hires a promoter, “JayL aka Young Stezo,” to put on those Saturday shows. In addition to hiring a deejay for this weekend’s installment, JayL (he declined in a phone conversation to give his full name) said he arranged for a well-known rapper, French Montana, to make an appearance. Not to perform. Just to mingle.
That drew a crowd. Cox, the club’s permittee, said that he decided not to fill the club to its 325 capacity. He was worried about a scene getting out of hand with French Montana present.
He had “six to seven” security guards on duty, he said. He used to hire off-duty cops until he fell $500 in debt to the city, he said. He said his guards know the people who show up at the club, and choose carefully whom to admit.
They ended up allowing “75 to 100” people into the club, according to Cox. Two hundred more people assembled outside.
“There was people in the back of my place trying to get in. They were sitting on the handicapped ramp. They were trying to get in all night,” Cox said. ““Everybody wanted to get in to see him.”
The evening went smoothly, Cox said. He decided at 1:45 a.m., 15 minutes before closing time, to head out to a friend’s house in Hamden to unwind.
The club has to close at 2 a.m. according to the terms of its provisional cafe license. it did close on time but a little after 2:30, the guards were still ushering people out, Cox said, based on what the guards later told him.
“It takes a while to get people out of a nightclub. People want to stand around. Everybody want to talk.”
Suddenly security heard “pop pop pop pop“ said Cox (pictured), who’s 45. Guards rushed outside to find a 22 year-old man who, it would later turn out, had been shot in the face as well as repeatedly in his body.
From what Cox later learned “on the street,” the shooting stemmed from a phone call, Cox said: Someone who had not been allowed in the club recognized Dayron Wilkins, 22, of New Haven, in the outdoor crowd, and made a call. Wilkins had allegedly been involved in an ongoing dispute between two rival neighborhood groups that dates back to a shooting at a nightclub at 50 Fitch St. That shooting took place a year or more ago, Cox said. (He didn’t know if it was this September 2007 murder.)
Rivals of Wilkins received the phone call, showed up outside the club, and started shooting, Cox said. They shot Wilkins in the head and up to nine more times in the body. Police who rushed to the scene discovered two more shooting victims outside, a 23 year-old New Haven man and Treston Irby, 36, of Bridgeport; Cox said they were among the shooters.
The promoter, JayL, was in the club at the time. “I actually don’t know what happened. When the incident happened, I was standing there having a conversation with someone and I seen everyone running,” he said.
Some 20 cops worked the scene starting at 3:06 a.m.
Second, Related Shooting
Around 10 minutes after they arrived, police were called to the scene of another shooting took place blocks away, at the intersection of Olive, State and Grove Streets. (That’s where the state’s FBI building is located.)
According to Lt. Ariel Melendez, the supervisor on duty at the time, four people were at the light in one car when another car pulled up. Someone from the second car fired through the window of the first car. One of the bullets hit a passenger, Keyshon Zimmerman, 24, of New Haven, in the face.
The driver of the first car “basically hauls away from the scene, drives directly to Yale-New Haven Hospital,” Melendez said. The car’s occupants told patrol officers they’d come from Everybodeez.
Police Monday were still investigating the shootings. They wouldn’t confirm or deny the details of Cox’s story.
According to Sgt. Tony Reyes, who’s heading up the investigation, police have yet to interview the four victims in depth. They’re still badly injured and receiving treatment at the hospital (three at Yale-New Haven, one at St. Raphael’s), he said. But barring an unforeseen complication, all four are expected to survive, Reyes said.
Lt. Melendez said the patrol division will be looking into the club’s permits.
John Suchy, director of the Liquor Control Division of the state Department of Consumer Protection, said Monday afternoon that his office has asked the cops to fax or email “ “those reports they are comfortable releasing to us.”
Suchy said his division issued a provisional license to Cox on Jan. 8. It has yet to issue a final permit.
“We are reviewing now the facts and circumstances surrounding the shooting that occurred. It appears just adjacent to the permit premises,” Suchy said. “I don’t want to comment on what it might do until we review the police reports.”
The police ask anyone with information on the shootings to call 946-6316 or 946-6304.
Fighting For Club’s Survival
As the victims fought to regain their health, proprietor Cox said he’s anticipating a fight to save his business.
He stressed that all the shooting took place outside his club, involving people who were never let inside. Police Monday said they received conflicting reports and weren’t sure yet exactly what happened. They have yet to interview the actual shooting victims at length, according to Sgt. Tony Reyes, who’s heading the investigation.
“My security and my staff, they done a hell of a job,” Cox said. “As far as I’m concerned, they saved a man’s life. And they saved a 100-and-something people’s lives. They got the people out. Nobody trampled over nobody. None of that.”
Cox said he retired from construction work in New Haven after 25 years on the job. He had surgery eight different times, on his hands, on his midriff, because of accidents on the job. He saved some money, borrowed some money, found some investors, and opened Everybodeez.
The idea was to have a safe place for people to have fun, he said. “Bloods, crips,” everyone could come in as long as they behaved, he said. Given the recession, he decided to open just on Friday and Saturday nights for the time being. He also rented the space out for baby showers and school parties.
He said he’s concerned about police or state liquor control investigators making a case against his club in the wake of the shootings. So far he has invested up to $75,000 in the business, he said.
“I’m not going to give up,” Cox said, “because I didn’t do anything wrong.”