IOWA CITY — A chaotic scene unfolded early Sunday morning as three people were shot in the Iowa City Pedestrian Mall just as hundreds of people — including newly-arrived University of Iowa students — were emptying out of downtown bars.
Iowa City Police Capt. Troy Kelsay said the shooting appeared to be the result of some conflict between two groups. Some members of the groups — one which was made up predominantly of Iowa City people and the other largely from Cedar Rapids — are known to police, but Kelsay was hesitant to call the organizations gangs.
“There were something that happened between them today or in the recent past,” Kelsay said of what triggered the shooting.
The three victims — ages 22, 26 and 27 — are not UI students, but are affiliated with the two groups. Police have not released their names. Kelsay said he understood one person to be in critical condition and going into surgery as of 5 a.m.; the two others were in stable condition.
Two men are in custody in connection with the shooting: Donte R. Taylor, 21 of Cedar Rapids; and Lamar C. Wilson, 23 of Iowa City. Wilson faces three counts of attempted murder and three counts of intimidation with a dangerous weapon. Attempted murder is a Class B felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison.
Taylor faces charges of trafficking in stolen weapons, possession of a firearm by a felon, carrying weapons, interference with official acts and public intoxication.
According to criminal complaints, Wilson fired “several rounds at several other subjects.” Those shots were fired “at close range,” police said. An acquaintance told police that Wilson shot at the other subjects over an “ongoing feud,” the complaints state.
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“This entire incident took place at an extremely busy time in the Ped Mall with a large volume of patrons exiting the bars,” a criminal complaint states. “When the shots were fired, people fled the area, hid behind structures and were visibly distressed.”
Police found two firearms on Wilson when he was taken into custody a short distance from where the shooting took place.
Police said Taylor was found leaving the scene of the shooting and taken into custody in the Sheraton Hotel parking ramp. Taylor tried to run from police, but was captured and found to be in possession of a 9mm handgun.
Police said Taylor – a felon – admitted to being present during the shooting. He also said he stole the gun he was carrying two months ago. Taylor appeared to be drunk and smelled of alcohol, police said.
The two men were booked at the Johnson County Jail after 7 a.m. Sunday.
Police said officers patrolling the Ped Mall responded to shots fired in the area of College and Dubuque streets around 1:29 a.m. Kelsay said officers on the scene estimated 800 to 1,000 people — many of them UI students having just returned to campus for the semester — were downtown. Officers had to fight their way through a sea of fleeing people in order to respond to the shooting.
“It was very, very, very chaotic,” Kelsay said. “People were trying to get away from the scene. The officers were running against the crowd to the scene … The officers were not comfortable. They were appropriately scared. “
Kelsay said the shooting happened just on the Ped Mall side of the walkway between the Sheraton Hotel and Martini’s bar. One victim was found by the Sheraton and the two others were found near or in the Dubuque Street parking ramp on the opposite side of the walkway, Kelsay said.
Iowa City and UI police were able to take a number of people to the police department for questioning about what role — if any — they had in the shooting, police said. A UI Hawk Alert was issued and several law enforcement agencies responded to help secure the scene and control the crowd.
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Bracing for a possible continuation of Sunday morning’s violence, Kelsay said Iowa City police will partner with UI police to continue to have a visible presence in the Ped Mall.
“I want to do everything that I can … to create an environment that discourages any kind of retaliation,” he said.
UI officials issued a “safety message” Sunday afternoon, acknowledging safety concerns and promising extra vigilance.
“Safety is our highest priority, and UI Police are working closely with Iowa City Police to provide as safe a community as possible,” a portion of the statement read.
Wilson has prior arrests as a juvenile for rioting, fifth-degree theft and unauthorized use of a credit card. Court records also show he was charged in 2013 in Linn County with being a fugitive from justice.
Court records show Taylor was sentenced to a residential facility in 2012 for aggravated robbery and carrying weapons. He was also convicted of forgery and possession of marijuana in 2016, according to court records.