Thursday, May 25, 2006

Officials say shooting scene was 'nip joint'

A court document said officers who responded to Saturday's shooting found stocks of food and booze.



The house where eight people were shot Saturday operated as a "nip joint" that hosted gambling and sold food and alcohol illegally, authorities believe.

When authorities searched the two-story gray house on Melrose Avenue Northwest for evidence connected to the shooting, they found a refrigerator stocked with booze and a sign that read "Now Open on Sundays, card players needed, spades and much more, through Mothers Day," according to an affidavit for a search warrant filed in court.

The affidavit says that police sought to search the house for items pertaining to the sale of alcohol. No one has been charged with operating an illegal nightclub there.

After the shooting, authorities found three handguns, 15 shell casings and three bullets inside the house. On Wednesday, investigators acting on a tip found another gun in a bush in the same block. A witness has said the shooting was gang-related, and police have acknowledged that it might be.

The shooting killed Timothy Jerome "T.J" Thompson and injured seven people. One of the wounded, Jason Donnell Roberson, 25, has been charged with murder and a firearm charge in connection with Thompson's death. Roberson appeared in court in a wheelchair Wednesday morning for his arraignment. He is being held without bond at the Roanoke City Jail.

Three of the seven shooting survivors remained in serious condition at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.

Two women familiar with the house on Melrose Avenue said it stayed open until dawn on some weekend nights and that patrons could buy mixed drinks, cigarettes and fried chicken.

"You name it, they sold it," said Joyce James, who worked as a cook at the club on a few occasions. "I ain't working down there no more," she added. "Too much drama."

James and Roxanne Anderson said the night spot would get overcrowded, both inside and outside. Some of Roanoke's big-time drug dealers would frequent the club, Anderson said.

Thompson's father, Tim Gillespie, said he hopes police will shut it down. He said the night spot was dangerous because "they don't care who they let in there" and because the operator did not search anyone for weapons.

"If he opened it back up, there might be another killing in there ... somebody else's child," Gillespie said.

Police spokeswoman Aisha Johnson said officers had been called to the house four other times since the start of 2006, once for an alcohol violation, twice for a report of disorderly conduct and again for a public service call.

Johnson said the department does not often receive reports of illegal night clubs selling alcohol. She said she could not provide statistics Wednesday on how many such violations the department has found.

James and Anderson said that several nip joints have closed down and popped up elsewhere in Roanoke over the past few years. Before the one opened on Melrose Avenue about a year ago, there had been a nip joint on 24th Street Northwest and another on Moorman Avenue Northwest, they said. Anderson said the club on Melrose Avenue likely would close and reopen somewhere else.

Roanoke Commonwealth's Attorney Donald Caldwell said that in the 1970s and '80s it wasn't uncommon for three or four nip joints to be operating at the same time, sometimes competing for business.

"In those types of environments, you routinely would have acts of violence," the prosecutor said. "Obviously, now people are armed with different and more lethal weapons."

Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call police Sgt. Libby Legg at 853-5317.

Staff writer Mike Allen contributed to this report.

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