NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—City police were investigating a shooting that took place in downtown New Brunswick, just one block from the city’s train station during the early morning hours of February 25.
But, instead it was the Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD) that alerted the public to the shooting with a “crime alert,” which noted that “descriptions of the perpetrator [were] limited.”
“On February 25, 2017 at approximately 1:19am two individuals sustained non-life threatening gunshot wounds to their legs,” said New Brunswick Police Department (NBPD) Captain JT Miller.
Miller said the “preliminary investigations” suggested that the men were shot outside the Court Tavern, a famous bar and music venue at the corner of Spring and Church Streets.
About one hour later, on the other end of the Fifth Ward, a man died after being robbed of cash and stabbed near his home in an unrelated incident on Hamilton Street.
The Court Tavern is considered to be one of the most legendary music venues in New Jersey, though it has fallen on hard times, changed ownership, and repeatedly been in limbo during recent years.
After 25 years in its current location, and decades longer at the same corner, the establishment closed in January 2012.
Mike Barrood bought it and re-opened the establishment under its old name later that year. He had previously opened another bar and restaurant one block away, Mike’s Courtside Tavern.
Mike’s is known for its close association with the city police department, and many officers were seen there at a gathering shortly before Christmas.
The association also raises questions about why the NBPD did not make significant efforts to publicize the incident.
“Both victims were transported to and treated at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital,” said Miller, who responded swiftly to a request for information under the state’s Open Public Records Act.
The victims were Charlton Stevens, a 23-year-old man from Hackensack and Emyle Duverger, a 25-year-old man from Brooklyn, according to Miller.
“Neither victim was able to provide any description of the possible assailant(s). This investigation is ongoing,” wrote Miller.
The following morning, a sport utility vehicle was seen in one of the “sally ports” connected to NBPD’s headquarters, with a flat tire and a window that had been shattered.
“I was closed and everyone was out of [the Court Tavern] when it [happened],” said Barrood, “Could have been from the show or [something] else.”
But a declaration made by the venue’s owner in a newspaper interview sparked much discussion following the unfortunate incident.
Barrood made comments to the Home News Tribune’s Nick Muscavage that seemed to indicate that he would no longer allow hip-hop shows at the establishment:
Mike Barrood, owner of the Court Tavern, located on Church Street, alleged that there was “shooting out front” of his bar.
“They are still not sure what happened,” he said. “The crowd inside was fine, no problems.”
There was a hip-hop show at the tavern Friday night that went into Saturday morning, he said…
While he isn’t sure who was involved with the shooting, one thing is for sure: he is done hosting hip-hop shows at his bar.
“I can’t risk people getting killed,” he said. “Them or my staff.”
Barrood confirmed his wishes to New Brunswick Today, which reported on the first hip-hop event to be held after he took over the venue. The art form’s presence at the Court Tavern has been prolific, before and after the change in ownership.
“I’ve been performing at the Court since the days of Bobby [Albert], and now with Mike in the past few years,” said Silent Knight, a local emcee who has a strong connection to New Brunswick.
“Definitely for me personally, I have always had a good experience with the Court.”
But, after comments made by Barrood in an interview with the Home News Tribune, the community is questioning whether the Court Tavern, one of the last live music venues left in the Hub City, will be open to them.
“People kept saying there wasn’t going to be hip-hop at the Court,” even before the February 25 shooting, said Silent Knight.
“If there really isn’t going to be hip-hop there anymore, it’s a hit,” said the artist, who is also known for performing with the Band Called Fuse. “It’s a loss and another hit to the hip-hop scene and the New Brunswick scene.”
Silent Knight said it was “unfortunate” that there was “already such a stigma and such a negative outlook on hip-hop shows and hip-hop crowds.”
But, even though “it sucks to have more and more clubs” shutting out the genre, the hip-hop community will be okay, said the artist, emphasizing that “it’s important to keep building and even opening new establishments to keep it thriving and growing.”
The Court Tavern, and much of downtown New Brunswick, is located in the Fifth Ward, one of several areas where the RUPD has pledged to alert its community about all “serious crimes.”
Miller, who is responsible for dealing with inquiries from the public, defended the decision not to publicize the shooting.
“I respect your opinion, but do not always agree with what you think is proper procedure,” said Miller, in response to a question about why the NBPD did not issue its own statement about the shooting. “I believe this a topic in which we have to agree to disagree.”
“As with most, if not every criminal investigation conducted by the NBPD, I am privy to information regarding the investigation that you are not,” said Miller.
“I will continue to use all of the information gathered during an investigation to fulfill my duties as the Public Information Officer and disseminate information in a way which is beneficial to the public as well as preserving the integrity of an ongoing investigation.”
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.