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Neighbors Speak Out Against Myrtle Ave. Violence After Fatal Shooting

By Janet Upadhye | June 5, 2013 7:11am
 New Sapolo Restaurant is located on Myrtle Avenue and Ryerson Street in Clinton Hill.
New Sapolo Restaurant
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CLINTON HILL — A recent fatal shooting in Clinton Hill has neighbors and local businesses raising concerns about what they see as increased violence and mayhem on a stretch Myrtle Avenue.

Antonio Benito Wilson II, 23, was hit by a stray bullet as he exited Fork Café at 507 Myrtle Ave. last Friday night and died before he reached Brooklyn Hospital, witnesses and police said.

Authorities had not made any arrests in the shooting as of Tuesday, and it was not immediately clear what sparked the fatal gunfire. But some locals are blaming the violence on nearby New Sapolo Restaurant.

The Spanish and Chinese food restaurant and bar, at 501 Myrtle Ave., opened nearly a decade ago, but over the past year has increasingly become the scene of rowdy fights as drunk patrons spill out into the street, residents and business owners said.

Last month alone, three calls were made to 311 complaining of underage drinking at the popular eatery.

Ryerson Street resident Illiana Murray, 38, said that New Sapolo "has become a hub for crime, foolish behavior and disorderly conduct."

Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership has also received several complaints about New Sapolo and said something needs to be done about violence on the block.

"We feel that alleged illegal activity is contributing to an emerging negative environment on this block," the Partnership wrote on its blog Tuesday. "We must collectively employ strategies to improve the atmosphere for businesses and residents alike in the immediate term."

Irena Wong, a representative of New Sapolo Restaurant, noted that the bar does not serve underage drinkers.

"For every person that orders an alcoholic beverage, we check identification," she said.

Wong added she is aware there has been an increase in fights outside the restaurant recently but blamed the violence on the changing neighborhood.

"There have been a lot of new bars opening on the block, and they attract a different kind of crowd of younger people and college students," she said. "We try to the best of our resources and capabilities to enforce rules."

The restaurant's representatives also quickly responded on Facebook this week after resident Alfred Assin posted his concerns about underage drinking and asked if anything could be done to curb the violence.

"Is there any way to stop this? Can you ask for police assistance when denying an underage patron a drink?" Assin wrote after the shooting. 

"The concerns you've voiced are some of ours as well," New Sapolo Restaurant wrote in response. "However, as Clinton Hill becomes more and more of a hotspot for teens and college students, it is difficult for us to control the crowd that the neighborhood now attracts."

Nearby Soco Southern Restaurant owner Peter Best and Fork Cafe owner Kimberly Price have also expressed concerns about New Sapolo.

"There is crazy gathering going on outside that place," Price said.

She is particularly concerned because the shooting victim Wilson, an innocent bystander, was dining at her cafe before he was killed on the street outside.

"When the rounds began, people took cover in our backyard," she said. "If you had seen the fear on their faces, you would be concerned too."

Price added that she found people hiding in her kitchen in fear nearly 30 minutes after the gunfire.

Residents had also voiced frustrations about New Sapolo long before last weekend's shooting.

Murray said she not only called 311 but also notified Councilwoman Letitia James' office before she took her complaints to the 88th Precinct community council on May 22.

"Does there have to be a dead body for someone to do something about it?" she asked police officers at the meeting, just weeks before Wilson was killed.

Capt. Ceres John responded that he was aware of the violence and was keeping an eye on the block.

The police presence has increased on Myrtle Avenue since the May 31 shooting, but residents are nonetheless calling for more action. Murray is printing flyers to hang on nearby blocks, asking neighbors to join her at upcoming Community Board 2 meetings.

"Police need to do more to investigate what's going on," Murray said. "No one else should get shot on my corner."

The partnership asks concerned residents to file a complaint with the New York State Liquor Authority if they suspect that "illegal alcohol activity is taking place in connection with a business."

The SLA did not immediately return a call for comment.

Residents said they plan to attend the upcoming Community Board 2 Health, Environment & Social Services Committee Meeting on June 5 at Brooklyn Hospital, and its general board meeting on June 12 at Pratt Institute.