Downtown safety again in spotlight after melee

An incident early Sunday outside the Thai House in the 700 block of Massachusetts Street resulted in a Kansas University football player being listed as a victim in a gun-pointing incident. The incident is the latest of several involving guns in downtown Lawrence.

A weekend incident involving a gun and an out-of-control crowd is resurrecting concerns about quelling downtown violence.

“It’s something I still feel very strongly that we have to deal with,” Lawrence Mayor Mike Amyx said. “We’ve got to make these folks understand that we cannot tolerate having guns downtown.”

A Kansas University football player is listed as the victim in a gun-pointing incident that occurred shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday in the 700 block of Massachusetts Street, according to court and police records.

Cornerback Aqib M. Talib was riding in a truck driven by former KU football player Mark F. Simmons when it was backed out of a parking space and then was surrounded by a crowd. Aubrey E. Gilbert, 23, of Lawrence, allegedly pointed a gun at Talib. Gilbert was struck and run over by the truck, according to police accounts.

Police later found Gilbert sitting in a nearby vehicle, and he told them he didn’t want medical treatment. Police found Gilbert had an empty holster and a handgun underneath a seat in a car that he was in.

He allegedly became uncooperative with officers and was arrested and booked into the Douglas County Jail. He was charged with felony aggravated assault Monday and is now free on $10,000 bond.

Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said an investigation is continuing.

“There are no charges at this time,” Branson said. “As we review the (police) reports as they come in, that may have a bearing on our decision.”

String of incidents

In addition to the gun incident, a series of verbal and physical altercations were taking place outside the Thai House, 724 Mass. At one point, a crowd of up to 30 people surrounded the truck Talib and Simmons were in and attempted to pull them out, police said.

What happened outside Thai House early Sunday was the latest in a string of violent downtown incidents that have occurred during the past couple of years.

Guns have been confiscated from vehicles parked outside Last Call, a nightclub at 729 N.H., around the block from Thai House.

Richie Caldon, owner of Thai House, said there were no problems inside his business that night.

“This was something that happened outside my facility,” Caldon said. “The people instigating this are not people I choose to bring into my facility.”

Thai House had been closed about 30 minutes when the brawls started, Caldon said. He said his patrons had been harassed after they left the club by others who were on the street and driving by.

“People were going up and down the street, driving on the wrong side of the road, taunting the people out in front of our building,” Caldon said.

Thai House sometimes turns into a nightclub about 11 p.m., Caldon said, usually for private events that often include KU student groups, he said.

“We have a very strict dress code,” Caldon said. “People have to wear collared shirts. There are no hats turned sideways and no baggy pants.”

Caldon said he is shutting down the nightclub operation for now and will focus on the restaurant side of the business.

“I don’t want anything like this to happen in front of my building again,” Caldon said.

Curbing violence

The weekend incident comes on the heels of recent discussions at City Hall about a number of proposals for curbing downtown violence. Earlier this month, the City Commission voted to make it illegal to carry a weapon within 200 feet of a drinking establishment unless a person has a concealed-carry permit or meets other specific exemptions.

Amyx said he had met with Police Chief Ron Olin and City Manager Dave Corliss to discuss the latest downtown trouble.

“The vast majority of the time, downtown is safe,” Amyx said. “We just have these incidents pop up. Our goal is to have things in place to deal with these problems.”

Caldon plans to open a nightclub at the former Moon Bar, 821 Iowa. He is leasing that building, which is undergoing remodeling. He isn’t sure when the club will open.

The Moon Bar gained notoriety in 2005 when former KU basketball player J.R. Giddens was cut in a melee outside the building. Caldon said he isn’t concerned about the building’s past.

“It will be a controlled environment and a safe environment for college students to come and have a good time and be safe,” he said.