Capital Park Bar and Grill

Staff photo by Mike Dunlap. Multiple people were injured and two were killed in the morning hours of Saturday, June 19, 2021.

Hours after deadly gunfire broke out while patrons were leaving a Baton Rouge bar last month, the managers of Capital Park Bar and Grill tried to distance themselves from the incident, saying it happened on an adjacent property.

But the shooting, which left two people dead and four others injured, is spelling out big problems for the Florida Boulevard business, including a decision Wednesday to extend a temporary suspension of its liquor license. The East Baton Rouge Alcoholic Beverage Control Board scheduled a hearing next month on whether to make the suspension permanent.

The decision Wednesday came despite arguments from an attorney for the bar owner, who said the suspension could kill the business entirely. He also cited ways the owner is trying to improve security, including by adding surveillance cameras and metal detectors. 

The board weighed those concerns but ultimately sided with lawyers for the city and exasperated residents who argued the location has a troubled history and is becoming a serious public safety hazard.

The business was under different ownership when seven people were shot there in 2019.

Two years later, gunfire erupted around 2 a.m. June 19 in an overflow parking lot. Police said the people involved were bar patrons on their way home after a concert. 

Several residents of the nearby Goodwood neighborhood — a relatively wealthy residential enclave south of Florida Boulevard — testified at the meeting that they'd had enough.

Metro Councilwoman Laura Adams, whose district encompasses Goodwood and Capital Park Bar, said public concern is heightened by Baton Rouge's surging homicide rate, which is on track to surpass all previous records for the second year running.

"There's no magic wand to be waved to stop the senseless loss of life in our city," Adams said. "It is time we save ourselves. The senseless murder and violence will stop when every adult in Baton Rouge stands up and says no more — not in my yard, not on my street, not in my neighborhood, not at my business and not in this parish."

She said two major shootouts at the same place is too much.

"Lightning has struck twice at 7132 Florida Blvd.," she said. "Unfortunately, we now know that this location attracts violence. I do not believe this location can safely accommodate nightclub events. If we allow lightning to strike here a third time, it will be on our watch and everyone in this room will be responsible."

While acknowledging the tragedy of escalating gun violence, Metro Councilman Cleve Dunn Jr. said the problem is much bigger than Capital Park Bar. He said scapegoating one business is futile, especially since the 2019 shooting happened under completely different ownership. 

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Dunn represents a nearby district that mostly comprises neighborhoods just north of Florida Boulevard. 

"This is a Baton Rouge issue, not a bar owner issue," he said. "It's a huge burden for the establishment owners to be responsible for patrons when they leave your business."

He also noted that a Baton Rouge police officer was on the scene when the shooting occurred. If police couldn't stop it, he asked, then how could a bar owner?

No arrests have been made in the case.

Philip House, an attorney representing Capital Bar owner Robert Stewart, said continuing the liquor license suspension will essentially put his client out of business, especially since bars and restaurants are already struggling to recover from pandemic restrictions. The suspension was initially imposed June 21.

Since it opened last June, Capital Park has become popular for its bottomless mimosa brunch on Sundays and nightclub in the evenings.

"We are trying to bring a great vibe and atmosphere to Baton Rouge," Capital Park management posted on social media just hours after the shooting. "I wish Baton Rouge can come together and stop the violence."

The alcohol board plans to hear arguments during its Aug. 12 meeting on whether to fully revoke the license. The suspension will continue in the meantime while officials finish their inquiry. 

The review is taking longer than expected because the lead investigator came down with COVID, City Prosecutor Paolo Messina explained.

He also presented a case for extending the suspension and outlined recent violent crime incidents at the location. He said the surviving victim from the June shooting was shot 14 times and BRPD officers applied seven tourniquets that likely saved her life.

"Service of alcohol is not a right," he said, "it's a privilege."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the date of the hearing on making the suspension permanent. It will take place Aug. 12.

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