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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

City garage violence raises concern

A city-run garage that many UF students use as a starting point for a night downtown has also been at the center of two violent outbursts in the last few months, leading some to question whether something can be done to make the garage safer.

Located at the corner of Southwest First Avenue and Southwest Second Street, the Southwest Downtown Parking Garage was opened in December 2005 to alleviate the crowded parking situation, said Gainesville Public Works spokeswoman Gina Hawkins.

The five-story garage has 842 spaces, which, on busy weekend nights, fill up fast. And when the bars close at 2 a.m., departing club-goers and bar-hoppers try to leave even faster.

That congestion has led to tense and violent encounters.

Andrew Arosemena, 22, died after he was shot in the head early one Sunday morning in November after telling the passengers of a car in front him to hurry out of the garage, police said.

Also, officers and bystanders at the site of a parking lot brawl next to the garage Feb. 16 came within 10 feet of a man firing a handgun. No one was hit by the bullet.

According to police reports, both instances occurred within minutes of the city's mandatory bar closing time.

The shooting this month occurred at about 1:50 a.m., as a large group funneled out of the back exit of downtown club The Venue. November's shooting took place at about 2:20 a.m., as the garage swelled with people trying to leave.

The problems related to the gunfire at the garage mirror other concerns for Gainesville's downtown - the use and abuse of alcohol, overcrowded downtown areas and a police force stretched thin by the city's size and budget.

Gainesville Police spokesman Lt. Keith Kameg estimated that, on a typical weekend night, the police have about 20 officers dedicated to patrolling downtown. Those officers, he said, are instructed to look for crowds and not concentrate in special areas like the garage.

"As for keeping an officer on each floor [of the garage], we've done it," Kameg said. "Do we do it all the time? No."

Some say the city and the police should be more active in safeguarding the garage. After Arosemena was killed, his family and a Tallahassee law firm said they intended to sue the city for, among other things, negligence in maintaining a municipal facility.

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Attorneys at the firm Erickson-McDaniel & Kelley, P.A., said they are still investigating the case and will be pursuing it further in July. City Attorney Marion Radson did not reply to several messages left at his office.

Dre Graham, a UF graduate student who said he has seen the downtown area get "pretty crazy," said there should be more officers present at the garage and other areas that have experienced recent gun violence.

"Is it more important for them to give out speeding tickets, or to make inhabitants of the city they work for feel comfortable and safe?" Graham said.

But Kameg said the two incidents near the garage were both uncommon and impossible to prevent.

"Short of having a cop right there, that could have easily happened anywhere," he said, alluding to the November murder. "The garage didn't cause that and law enforcement couldn't prevent it. That is a serious, just - that's a society-in-general travesty."

According to Hawkins, the fully automated garage features its own security.

Each floor has a call box that sounds alarms and flashes lights when pressed to alert officers and passersby.

The garage also features a police annex, which Kameg said serves as a staging area for officers to do paperwork and organize arrests.

But because of how big the downtown area is, Kameg said the garage wouldn't receive any other special attention from police.

"Officers get deployed wherever they think the crowd is," Kameg said. "We have a whole city to watch."

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