Legion Hall party ends in gunfire

Published 10:24 am Wednesday, April 5, 2017

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Multiple gunshots were fired Saturday night during a party at the American Legion Post 49 in Smithfield.

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There were reports of about 10 shots fired from two different caliber pistols, said Smithfield Police Sgt. Chris Meier.

One 20-year old Smithfield man received a flesh wound in the hip, but other than that, there were no other injuries, Meier said.

The party of college-age individuals, who had rented the Legion hall, began at about 10 p.m., and the call about a shooting came in at about 12:30 p.m., Meier said. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

According to witnesses, two girls were fighting in the parking lot when the shooting began, Meier.

Police recovered eight fired casings from a 40-caliber pistol and a 9 mm, Meier said. Also found were two shotgun shells where it appeared the shotgun was “racked” but not fired, Meier said.

It doesn’t appear that the bullets hit any nearby houses, cars or other structures and there haven’t been any notices from local hospitals about additional gunshot wounds, Meier said.

The 20-year old victim was not on the scene when police arrived, but had called from the 7-Eleven on West Main Street, he said.

Meier said there are no suspects, and no one on the scene has yet provided any information concerning who fired the pistols, Meier said.

As a result of the shooting, American Legion officials are taking steps to tighten control of its facility and prevent something like this from happening again, said Post Commander Pat Connolly.

“This is the first time in 35 years anything like this has happened,” Connolly said.

The rental contract with the group stipulated there would be no alcohol. They did not have an ABC license, but that wasn’t honored, Connolly said.

Police also found illicit drugs at the facility, which is not condoned by the Legion, Connolly said.

In the future, only Legion members can have alcohol on the premises and in the case of outside groups, there will be a member monitoring the event, he said.

If alcohol is introduced at an event by non-members, they will be evicted, Connolly said.

However, the Legion stopped short of hiring an off-duty police officer because they didn’t want to introduce that element of possible liability, Connolly said.

Meanwhile, Connolly is “very upset and embarrassed, quite frankly,” that such an event occurred at the Legion facility.

Robert Smallwood was at home in bed that night, unable to sleep because of the noise. Smallwood lives next door to the American Legion hall on South Church Street.

Smallwood heard one shooter from the rear of the building and a second closer to the building. It seemed like they were shooting at each other, he said.

Since he knew it was gunfire, Smallwood “wasn’t about to look out the window,” and instead called 911.

Meanwhile, people were “pouring out of that property,” and it was “chaotic,” Smallwood said. Cars were flying out of the parking lot, “driving kind of crazy and fast.”

Smallwood said that when the police arrived, they blocked the driveway.

Smallwood was concerned about the police having to arrive at such a chaotic, dangerous situation.

“They don’t know what’s in there … they’re potentially risking their life and limb,” he said, adding that he’s complained about the frequent parties to some prior Legion officials without satisfaction.

“It’s a throwdown,” he said of the parties, which include loud music, as well as “hollering, yelling and cussing.”

Smallwood said his son has warned, “This will keep going until someone gets killed.”

“It’s very irresponsible of the Legion to do this,” he said of renting out the facility and not monitoring the situation.

“It just makes the town look sleazy.”

Connolly, who is relatively new as Post Commander, said he’s spoken with Smallwood in the past and was surprised he is upset in general about the rentals at the Legion.

There will be no more rowdy parties, he said.

Meier said that in the past year, there’s just been one complaint about the parties made to the Smithfield Police Department.

Anyone with information concerning this incident can call the Crime Line at 888-LOCK-U-UP or 1-888-562-5887 and choose option 10. In addition to being eligible for a cash reward if the information leads to an arrest, all calls or texts remain confidential.  {/mprestriction}