Sunday, December 28, 2014

Texas City Authorities Attempt to Criminalize Victim, Bar Owner, After Police Killing of African American Youth
Carlton Wayne Smith and his mother on Christmas Day, 2014.
Saturday, December 27, 2014 11:50 pm

Harris T. Aldridge, who owns H.T.'s Lounge in Texas City, talks about the fatal shooting that occurred at his night club in the early hours of Friday Dec. 26. He said the surveillance video of the incident supports the police department’s account of what happened.

TEXAS CITY — The owner of H.T.’s Lounge, where a 20-year-old man was shot dead by police Friday, insists he runs a respectable business.

But some officials say the bar and its patrons have been a trouble spot for many years.

About 1:30 a.m. Friday, Carlton Wayne “Chimmy” Smith was shot by Texas City police officer Christopher Ham after a fight that started inside the club continued in the parking lot. During the fight, someone fired several shots.

Smith pointed a gun at Ham who was responding to the disturbance, officials and witnesses said.

The six-year police veteran warned Smith to drop the weapon, then fired at least five times, killing Smith. An autopsy report released Saturday confirmed that Smith was not shot in the back as some witnesses had claimed.

Friday morning’s police response to H.T.’s was not unusual for police, officials said.

Texas City police records show officers were either called to or initiated calls to the lounge 620 times between Jan. 1 and the morning of the shooting. A review of records from Dec. 1, 2013, through Friday morning shows 756 police calls related to H.T.’s.

The majority of the calls are listed as “Keep Check,” or “Bar Check.” Those calls mean police were checking on things and that there were no specific reports of any incidents.

Harris T. Aldridge and his wife, Joann, have owned H.T.’s for 35 years. He said most of those calls for police come from him.

“When I get busy, I always call the police to come and make sure everyone leaves the parking lot,” Aldridge, 72, said. “Nothing ever happens inside, but when we have a crowd there’s always some sort of problem on the outside.”

Police reports show that of the 620 calls in 2014, 84 generated some type of incident report. Many of those reports list the incidents as “disturbance,” while there are a handful of drug-related arrests, assaults and warrant arrest reports.

There are also several trespassing incidents when bar patrons refused to leave, according to reports. A few were auto accidents that happened as cars pulled out of H.T.’s parking lot, while a few others were public intoxication arrests.

There are also a few “narcotics related” incidents listed, but few resulted in a full police report or arrest.

Many of the aggravated assault reports listed involved stabbings, according to Texas City police reports. Each time, the incident happened in the parking lot and often police were called well after it was over.

Until Friday morning, there had been no reports of shootings at H.T.’s this year.

There were two stabbings within the last month.

A 25-year-old woman was stabbed in the parking lot on Dec. 13, and a 20-year-old woman was stabbed outside H.T.’s on Nov. 26, according to police reports.

One constant in all the reports is the fact that most incidents happen between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m.

Aldridge said his staff uses handheld metal detectors on all those who come into the club and that women have their purses searched.

“We don’t allow any guns or weapons of any kind in here,” Aldridge said as he sat at the bar and watched television reports on the shooting late Friday night. “If they have knives or guns, they have them in their cars. That’s when stuff happens, after they leave and go to their cars.”

Aldridge also has cameras all over the place recording video inside the lounge and parking lot.

Investigators are reviewing video of Friday morning’s shooting.

Aldridge said the shooting or similar incidents don’t do his club’s image any good.

“You know what happens; anything bad happens everybody says it’s a bad place then,” he said. “It was nothing we did. It was an unfortunate (incident) and I hate it for the family and I hate it for the officer. I hate that it happened to me, and I don’t want to be interviewed (because) of it.”

Aldridge said he does all that he can to keep criminal activity in and around his bar to a minimum.

“I do my damndest to have nothing happen,” Eldridge said. “I run a respectable business. I just don’t think it. I know I do.”

Some familiar with H.T.’s say its customers cause many problems, especially around closing time, however.

“H.T.’s Lounge has been a consistent issue for years,” former La Marque City Manager Eric Gage said. “During my city manager days, and doing ride-alongs with the La Marque police officers, this is a consistent place for problems when crowds leave.

“I have been there during crowd control times with reports of guns involved. I would sit in the police car while the brave officers got out of their cars and went straight into the crowds with true bravery.

This was bound to, unfortunately, happen.”

The Daily News was unable to obtain La Marque police calls for incidents when its officers responded to a club, which is near that city’s limits.

Just last month, the large crowds at the lounge, especially on Friday nights, drew the attention of the Texas City Fire Marshal Dennis Harris.

He said his office had several reports that the bar was often over capacity and posed a safety risk because too many people were packed into the 1,500-square-foot space.

Harris had already scheduled a spot inspection for Friday night. The maximum capacity for the lounge is supposed to be 275 people, according to the permit on the wall near the entrance.

That surprised Harris, who said he was unsure when the last time someone from his office conducted a review. Before Friday night’s spot check, Harris estimated that the maximum should actually be about 100 people, depending on how many tables and chairs are inside.

Texas City Police Chief Robert Burby said the club was not a problem spot.

“We don’t have issues in these clubs that we would have to have meetings on or anything like that,” Burby said. “We look at it as just another call — there aren’t any bad places in Texas City.”

The majority of the calls that Texas City police respond to, about 85 percent, are proactive calls, he said.

“We’re a proactive police force,” Burby said. “A doctor once told me, ‘Let’s do treatment before we have an illness, preventive medicine. I truly believe that’s the best practice.”

One question lingering after Friday’s shooting was how Smith, 20, got into the club when the legal drinking age is 21.

Aldridge said Smith was allowed in and he defended that decision.

Smith was less than five months shy of his 21st birthday.

“Yeah we let them in,” Aldridge said. “We show them respect, but we don’t serve them. Maybe somebody they are with sneaks them a drink, but we don’t serve anyone (under 21).

“I don’t mind letting them in here as long as they don’t cause me any trouble.”

Because H.T.'s also serves food, Aldridge said he can let customers as young as 18 come into his business.

The Daily News was unable to determine Friday whether the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission had ever cited H.T.’s for allowing underage drinking.

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