Not too long ago, the Columbus Consolidated Government released a public report on crime in the city, boasting its lowest overall crime rate in 33 years. This claim was repeated across numerous news outlets. However, the actual content of the report paints a much more frightening picture of Columbus’s state of affairs, a picture far more familiar to the Columbus residents who live with the threat of violence every day.
While it may be true that overall crime was down in Columbus in 2017 — the final year included on the report — the operative word is “overall.” The city showed its most marked improvements in robbery and burglary. Meanwhile, rapes were up by 13% from 2016, aggravated assaults were up by 2%, and murders were up by a whopping 45%.
As of mid-June 2019, there seemed to be a small ray of hope on the murder front, with the Columbus police only being called upon to investigate 14 homicides since the beginning of the year — three fewer than the same time the previous year. Yet the city’s own assistant police chief attributed the difference to chance rather than to his department’s success, and warned that the numbers can change quickly, especially in the summer months.
Landowners in Columbus no doubt have their work cut out for them when it comes to protecting their properties, tenants, employees, and guests from violence. However, just like utilities and upkeep, providing necessary security is one of the inherent expenses of any business that involves the ownership and management of premises. A high local crime rate is no excuse for putting a property’s occupants in harm’s way. In fact, that high crime rate should serve as a warning that the property is even more in need of protection than one in a statistically safer area.
When landlords refuse to invest in security, people get hurt, and sometimes litigation is the only way to put things right, or at least as right as they ever can be after a violent crime. The lawyers at The Stoddard Firm are Georgia locals, experienced in negligent security law, familiar with the typical state of properties in Columbus, and proud to help individuals and families who’ve been harmed by preventable, violent crime.
Murders on and Around Farr Road Are out of Control
Farr Road is one of the most notoriously dangerous areas of Columbus, and for good reason. On New Year’s Day of 2019, Farr Road attained the dubious distinction of hosting Columbus’s first homicide of the year. The turnover of the calendar page was the only way in which this deadly shooting in one of Farr Road’s apartment complexes could be called a “first”; by all other measures, it was simply the latest in an ongoing string.
Less than two months earlier, police responded to a call about a shooting at a Farr Road convenience store. Within an hour of that call, they received another about a seemingly unrelated shooting five minutes away from the first. The owner of one business near the second shooting emphasized to the press that “nobody was expecting anything to happen,” though it’s hard to imagine how violence on and around Farr Road can be anything but expected by now. The same owner also described plans to combat the negative publicity with a paintball event, but made no mention of security improvements to combat future incidents.
In September of the previous year, a man was shot and killed at Hannah Heights Apartments, also on Farr Road, in what was then the second fatal shooting of the day, the third homicide of the week, and the 29th homicide of the year across Columbus. The suspect arrested for the shooting was a self-professed founding member of a local gang, which has been linked with multiple murders, armed robberies, and other crimes.
Just two months before that, a teenager was shot to death in his parked car on Farr Road. That incident clocked in as homicide number 16 in Columbus’s annual tally.
Certain Columbus Buildings Have Already Been Called Out for Fostering an Environment of Violence
Frequent, violent crime isn’t just an immutable threat that landlords in certain areas must respond to; sometimes it’s the direct result of building mismanagement.
One case of repeating violence that drew particular attention, both in court and in the eyes of local government officials, involved the Cross Keys Apartments in southeast Columbus. In July of 2014, two men and one woman were non-fatally shot during a party in the complex’s parking lot. According to police, a fight broke out when a newly arriving group of people tried to join the party in progress. One week later, another man was shot, this time fatally, at another Cross Keys party.
In the second shooting, a suspect was charged and acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. According to the admitted shooter, he was working security for the party, at the request of the host, and told the victim that he had to pat him down for weapons. The victim refused, became belligerent, and pulled out a handgun. A friend of the victim did the same and struck the shooter with the butt of his weapon. It was at this point, the shooter says, that he fired to defend himself. Although the shooting was deemed justifiable, the victim’s family was awarded $4.5 million in a negligent security case against Cross Keys, on the grounds that management had done nothing to improve security after the first shooting, except ask the police to check on the place regularly.
Soon after the second shooting, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson joined police and the management of Cross Keys in examining the property and forming a plan for improved security. The investigation identified what Mayor Tomlinson reported to be a likely cause of the property’s rash of shootings: residents running unlicensed bars out of their homes under the guise of parties. These illegal “party houses” are a concept by no means isolated to Cross Keys, and their presence can raise the risk of violent crime wherever building management allows them to operate, because private residences are not equipped to handle the increased security challenges associated with bars.
Other Buildings Have Been Left to Suffer Repeated Crimes for Much Longer
Party houses are just one of many ways crime can cluster around individual properties, so whenever one building is connected with an excess of crime, it’s always worth taking a look at the management’s policies and effectiveness.
Few Columbus buildings have been mentioned in connection with gun violence quite as alarmingly often as Eagles Trace Apartments, on Torch Hill Road. In June of 2018, two men got into a gunfight in front of the complex. Thankfully, no one was killed, but witnesses noted that the incident occurred dangerously close to where some of the complex’s children were playing.
In November of the previous year, an Eagles Trace resident was arrested and his apartment searched, revealing 10 ecstasy pills and a murder weapon associated with the shooting of a teen at another apartment complex.
Three months earlier, a man allegedly threatened a group of people outside of Eagles Trace Apartments while brandishing a stolen handgun, and then fired at one of the apartments. Five months before that, a woman was non-fatally shot inside the building itself.
Combatting crime can be difficult, but it seems unlikely that Eagles Trace’s then-owners — PF Holdings and its subsidiary, Eagles Trace LLC — were making much of an effort at providing security, considering how big an issue providing something as basic as water proved to be. According to an investigation by News 3, PF Holdings owed the city of Columbus over $460,000 in back taxes and fines, and the Columbus Water Works $105,000 in unpaid bills, as of December 2018. That’s when PF Holdings sold off Eagles Trace Apartments, in spite of liens on the property totaling upwards of $300,000.
The Water Works, which says it was never informed of the ownership change, threatened to shut off the water to Eagles Trace in January of 2019, before eventually coming to an arrangement with the new owners. Water Works representatives also allege outstanding debts from Ralston Towers, another Columbus-area property owned by PF Holdings, which has also been sued for nonpayment by local businesses providing repairs.
After seemingly collecting rent for an unknown period of time without paying basic bills or taxes, let alone addressing the security situation, PF Holdings made $9.9 million on the sale of Eagles Trace, according to Muscogee County Superior Court Clerk records.
Landlords and Business Owners Need to Be Cautious in Every Part of Columbus
It’s almost impossible to find an area of Columbus where crime isn’t a problem. Benning Hills is facing repeated home burglaries, and East Highland residents report increasing drive-by shootings and general gang activity. Oakland Park recently saw a home invasion resulting in a police chase, and a man punched to death at a barbecue in the same month.
Even the Uptown area shows repeating patterns of crime. In March of 2019, an unknown person opened fire inside the Ayden Lounge Bar and Restaurant on Broadway, wounding three people. Two months later, a man was shot in the hip at Martini’s Nightclub, also on Broadway.
Enablement by building management plays a significant role in repeating and clustering crime, but even landlords who would never consciously overlook crime on their properties need to take extra care in cities like Columbus. A landlord’s responsibility for harm that comes to people on a property is determined by whether that harm could have been foreseen, and whether steps could have been taken to prevent it. Crime in high-crime areas is by its nature predictable, so landlords are responsible for taking reasonable steps to prepare and protect tenants, employees, and guests.
The Stoddard Firm Has Successful Experts in the Often Tempestuous Field of Negligent Security
People often assume that no one has the power to stop crimes from happening, and negligent property owners encourage this attitude. The reality is that a great deal of crime is opportunistic. Simple measures like functioning gates, cameras, and adequate lighting can greatly reduce the danger to people on a property, yet many landlords guard their bottom lines by skimping on security and deflecting blame.
The passionate professionals at The Stoddard Firm have experience and proven success in explaining this issue to judges and juries, winning our clients the compensation they deserve, and holding property owners financially accountable for their indifference to tenant safety. Our Columbus negligent security lawyers take the time to learn and present the facts about how the crime occurred, what similar crimes have happened on or around the property in the past, and exactly how the landlord failed to safeguard occupants of the property for the future.
If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one to violent crime on an inadequately secured property in Columbus, give us a call today at 678-RESULT, or reach out through our online chat function for a free consultation on the details of your case.
Attorney Matt Stoddard
Matt Stoddard is a professional, hardworking, ethical advocate. He routinely faces some of the nation’s largest companies and some of the world’s largest insurers – opponents who have virtually unlimited resources. In these circumstances, Mr. Stoddard is comfortable. Mr. Stoddard provides his strongest efforts to his clients, and he devotes the firm’s significant financial resources to presenting the strongest case possible on their behalf. Matt understands that his clients must put their trust in him. That trust creates an obligation for Matt to work tirelessly on their behalf, and Matt Stoddard does not take that obligation lightly. [ Attorney Bio ]
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The amount of security a landlord must provide depends on the likelihood of violence on or around the property. If violent crime is unheard of in a certain area, landlords don’t need to protect against it. When violent crime is a known threat, on the other hand, landlords are legally obligated to provide tenants with appropriate protection.
Unfortunately, landlords often refuse to accept thi...