‘Crime has plummeted’ in Macon neighborhood since store was forced to close, county officials say

A corner convenience store in one of Macon’s most crime-plagued neighborhoods has in recent weeks found itself at the center of a public-nuisance dispute.

The M&M Grocery at 2760 Montpelier Ave. was closed in mid-September after Bibb County officials obtained a temporary court order, citing the store as a haven for violence, drug peddling and other nefarious deeds.

The food mart, five blocks west of Pio Nono Avenue on the north side of the Unionville community, lies along the border of rival gang turf. It has, since 2017, been the scene of two homicides.

At a hearing in Bibb Superior Court on Thursday, a lawyer for the store’s operators argued that local authorities were overreaching and improperly punishing the establishment for problems beyond its control.

“Though it’s convenient and though it pulls on the nerves of this community about (crime in the area), nothing in the law says this court should do that,” M&M attorney C. Brian Jarrard said in court. “Saying that we don’t like the fact that there’s all this crime around this convenience store, (closing it) is not in and of itself a lawful exercise.”

The county was represented at the hearing by David Cooke, the former Bibb district attorney who is now in private practice.

Cooke said that in the weeks after the store was closed “crime has plummeted in that neighborhood. …Measurably.” He unveiled seemingly stark and compelling statistics of criminal activity in the weeks before and after the store closed.

A sheriff’s deputy — a crime analyst — tested that in the three weeks before the store’s ordered closure in mid-September there were 21 instances of gunfire in which 173 bullets were fired within 400 feet of the store.

In the three weeks after the store was closed, there was one such instance of gunfire recorded there in which three bullets were fired. The episodes were recorded by an array of devices that detect firearms blasts.

During the same period in the store’s immediate vicinity there were 13 reported crimes prior to its closing. There were three in the three weeks after.

Cooke also said the store was a “de facto Crip headquarters,” that the store’s operators had “fostered an environment” that allowed drugs to be sold in and around the store.

Renowned Crip gang leader Andre “Gangster Dre” Taylor was shot and killed at the edge of the parking lot there in April 2017.

According to Telegraph research, the store remains in the heart of an impoverished area beset by bloodshed. During a four-and-a-half-year span from January 2014 until the middle of 2018, 25 homicides happened within a 1.2-mile radius of the store. The killings in that area accounted for roughly a fifth of the county’s homicides during that span.

The judge presiding in the M&M case, David L. Mincey III, may in coming days — after weighing arguments from both sides — issue an order similar to one involving another alleged nuisance store on Houston Avenue.

That order in early July temporarily allowed Friends Food Mart to re-open with restrictions on its hours of operation and stipulations that it curtail loitering. However, that store, across from the Pendleton Homes public housing complex, has yet to re-open.

Thursday’s hearing included a number of contentious exchanges between the attorneys, one of which came when the judge, seeking clarification on the county’s case against M&M, asked Cooke, “What, exactly, is a nuisance?”

“Multiple murders,” Cooke said, “running drug dealing out of the store. Constant, incessant shootings.”

Jarrard, the M&M lawyer, spoke up, saying, “There is no evidence of that.”

To which Cooke said the store’s operators are not accused of drug dealing themselves but that they had, in essence, turned a blind eye to it.

The area where the store sits—just west of the long-shuttered Colonial Bakery, a neighborhood fixture in past decades—is a border between Crip and Mafia or Gangster Disciple territories.

Cooke said the store itself, when open, “may be the most dangerous spot” in town.

“It is likely,” he went on, “the most dangerous spot in the entire county. … And it’s because of the practices of the people who run this store.”

Jarrard later countered that he thinks the county is “scapegoating” the store’s owners.

“I wish Montpelier was not a crime center,” he said. “My clients wish Montpelier was not a crime center. … But to shift to private business enterprise the duty of policing … is yet another problem.”

Added Jarrard: “I get the news-bite attractiveness of ‘Montpelier is a crime zone,’ but I also get that we ought to protect business.”

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