Special Report: Addressing violence at American Legion
EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - In the early hours of October 6, 2019, a man opened fire, shooting five people, in the parking lot of American Legion Post 354. EPD officers were already in the area and quickly found who they believed was the suspect.
Prior to the shooting, police say Keymo Johnson got into an argument. It reached the parking lot where Johnson allegedly pulled out his gun and started firing.
Evansville Police say the post was often a dangerous place.
“Fight calls, fight runs inside, it would spill out into the parking lot," said EPD Sgt. Nick Winsett. "When the place would close down at night, there had been several times where we would show up and there would be a lot of fights, shots fired, narcotics usage.”
The October shooting isn’t the only time blood was shed at Post 354.
Another shooting in the parking lot in 2017 left one man dead and three others injured. After this second mass shooting, local and state legion leaders met to address the violence.
“The main thing we wanted to address is that the bar is not the priority and if there is going to be a bar run, we need to operate the best practices to ensure safety,” said John Crosby, Department Adjutant for the American Legion of Indiana.
Post 354 Adjutant Service Officer Luther Nixon says they have added additional security guards on weekends, often using three or four depending on the size of the crowd. One makes sure to patrol the outside of the building.
“We have got to have outside security up here when we are closed, so what is outside security going to do? Make sure no crowds are gathering, move off of the property, go where you are going, go home and whatever,” said Nixon.
Employees and bartenders have also been trained to watch for guests who've had too much to drink.
“Hey, buddy, how about a cup of coffee or soft drink, I’ve got a good sandwich back there you can eat. You know? To kind of diffuse him before it escalates into something that could be a pretty bad situation,” said Nixon.
They also closely monitor who they let into the building.
“You have to be an American Legion member, you can be a guest of an American Legion member, only on limited nights per month," said Crosby. "They do now card every individual member that comes into the post to ensure that they have eligible membership.”
Since implementing these strategies, EPD says they have responded to the legion six times. None of which were violent incidents.
“Most of them were like medic runs, for some patrons in here that got hurt for whatever reason, but nothing of any circumstance or anything major,” said Sgt. Winsett.
Still, state legionnaires are keeping a close watch on Post 354. They hope the enhanced safety and security will become the new norm here.
“We reserve the option to close the post if it continues to be a threat to the community, but we want the community to know that the post is there to serve that community. We are there to serve them,” said Crosby.
“The atmosphere is more harmonious now. . . You know they play cards they shoot pool,” said Post 354 Chaplain John Hughes.
“We want whoever, our patrons to come in and we want them to feel safe. So I think that the increased security is a definite deterrent," said Post 354 Historian Sarita Knuckles.
Police aren't letting up either, they will keep patrolling the area heavily on weekends and will be ready if trouble returns.
“If we know there is going to be a big party or a lot of people here, we might have some cars close in the area," said Sgt. Winsett. “If we hear some shots fired, we’ll definitely go to that area, so we try to head things off before they get out of control.”
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