JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Courtney Harvey says she knew of Monarch 815’s reputation as a party haven when she and two friends took an apartment there in May 2022, but the adjunct East Tennessee State University (ETSU) faculty member said other factors played into her decision.
“I definitely knew about its reputation before I went in, but I chose mostly based on the convenience of it being close to campus, and that they have a shuttle that takes you to campus,” Harvey told News Channel 11.
News Channel 11 research shows that over the past year the area in and around Monarch (1109 University Parkway) has been the scene of 14 simple assault calls, an aggravated assault call, an alleged rape, four weapons violations and three felony drug violations, among a total of 51 incidents.
Monday — a day after 19-year-old Ja’Shon Yates had died after being shot in Building Four of the four-building complex — Harvey fired off an email to Monarch’s management expressing her concerns and complaints about what she sees as the lack of adequate security.
That’s a view shared by Ressa Parton, an ETSU student who’s lived at Monarch since 2021 and who has had personal experiences at the property during which she felt unsafe.
“I think that they need to know that we are tired of feeling unsafe in our home,” Parton said, adding that she’d like to see exterior doors accessible only via resident key fobs.
“It’s really just tiring not seeing anything change after so many residents — even I’ve heard just in my friend group people that live there complaining to management, saying ‘hey, we don’t feel safe, is there anything we can do.'”
Monarch owners uncommunicative: JCPD
Despite a string of incidents and an open-door policy for property managers at the Johnson City Police Department (JCPD), Tarantino Properties — a Houston-based property firm that’s owned Monarch since 2019 — has been silent on the issue of criminal activity and unrest at their complex.
The shooting that killed Yates was at least the third reported at Monarch within the past nine months, and Johnson City police say the other two remain unsolved.
Nearby University Edge, a similarly sized student-oriented complex, shows just a few assaults at a similarly sized student-oriented complex.
JCPD Lt. Don Shepard is leading the Yates investigation and said he hasn’t spoken to Monarch management at all in the wake of the shooting.
“I know they had a security guard there that night but I didn’t get to speak with him either,” Shepard said.
In fact, Police Chief Karl Turner said he doesn’t know of Tarantino Properties ever reaching out to JCPD about crime or safety at their property.
“We do work with complexes such as that one and there’s another complex in the city that I think frequently communicates with our operations major and shares information back and forth,” Turner said.
“We’re more than willing to do that, but they’ve not reached out to us for any assistance that I’m aware of.”
When asked whether Monarch has been of particular concern due to the volume of calls there, Turner said the department always has concerns about areas that experience what he called “a heightened level of calls.”
That’s where he said collaboration can go a long way.
“You can look at our downtown in the Downtown Association and the partnerships we have with businesses to try to help alleviate some of those problems,” Turner said. “So, again, we’re more than happy to work with anybody who has a problem in their neighborhood or an apartment complex such as that, and we’re willing to help with that.”
For his part, Lt. Shepard said the approach taken by owners of a complex with a lot of younger residents can send a signal to other “elements” in the community.
“I think the more lighting, the more security, the more posting, the more the word gets out there that ‘hey, they have security here, they have really good cameras here, they cooperate with police here, they have security guards on hand 24 hours a day’ — I think that lessens an opportunity for some of that stuff to go on,” Shepard said.
“And I think a lack of that encourages it and makes it an environmentally rich opportunity for some things like that to occur.”
Residents exasperated — company silent
That’s been Harvey and Parton’s experience.
Parton said tenants often hear about the many incidents at the complex only through word of mouth on the app Yik Yak, an anonymous, location-based social media site. She claimed most incidents are not reported to tenants by Monarch.
“A lot of the other ones we don’t really even get notified about via [Monarch], which feels a little negligent to me,” Parton said. “I do live there every day, and if there’s someone that’s assaulted or injured or killed, as of recently, that’s something that’s pertinent information to us.”
Additionally, Parton said exterior doors to the four residential buildings on site have been unlocked for almost the entirety of her time at Monarch.
That’s a big concern for Parton as it would allow anybody inside. She called on Monarch to fix that issue expediently, especially as she pays her monthly rent to the company.
“We are paying people. I feel that our safety should be of utmost importance to the apartment complex,” Parton said. “Something as minimal as locking the entrance into our apartment should be taken very seriously.”
Parton even has her own story of an unsafe situation on Monarch grounds.
She reported driving to her apartment with her parents in a separate car last year. A parked car had an open door blocking their advancement.
Someone closed the door, letting her parents’ car through, but re-opened it as Parton approached. That’s when two men approached her car.
“There was a very tall man that walked around the back of my car. He had a brown paper bag and he was kind of canvassing my car,” Parton said.
The second man put his arms on her car door and stuck his head inside, asking Parton if she remembered him from a Monarch pool party hosted earlier that evening.
The man persisted as Parton told him to leave until Parton’s mother exited her vehicle, running the men off.
“If she wasn’t there and hadn’t interjected, the situation – I don’t know what would’ve happened,” Parton said.
Parton reported the incident to Monarch security officers, and claimed nothing ever came of it.
“I feel that I was brushed off. The people that were threatening my security at the time were gone, so they weren’t doing anything about that,” Parton said. “I feel management has been equally dismissive.”
Parton was asleep in her apartment in the early morning of New Year’s Day during the fatal shooting, alerted to the incident by an ETSU alert.
As Harvey did, Parton received the Monarch email telling tenants their safety is their own responsibility, which caused Parton frustration.
“They do provide us with a place to live, but on the same token they should also give us basic safety,” Parton said.
Parton’s lease expires in May, after which she does not expect to re-sign.
In her email to Monarch, Harvey wrote of how infrequently the exterior doors to buildings are locked and said Monarch should control access to the buildings.
Harvey got a response Monday evening from a company representative, who wrote that “safety is our number one priority for our residents, guests and staff” and added that “we have made ourselves available to assist local authorities.”
Despite Turner and Shepard saying Tuesday afternoon they knew of no communication from Monarch even up to that point, the person who emailed Harvey, Zak Takacs, said “we are working with authorities on community safety…”
When it comes to Tarantino’s legal obligations, there are few.
Harvey’s lease clearly says Monarch is “not obliged to furnish security personnel, security lighting, security gates or fences, or other forms of security, unless required by law.”
But Harvey said she believes a company whose website says that its student complexes “strive to provide a great, safe and memorable living experience,” can and should do better.
News Channel 11 emailed several Tarantino representatives Tuesday morning, including their marketing manager and the person over their student housing portfolio. We asked about safety, interaction with residents and the police, how many security staff they employ at Monarch and several related questions.
The company had not responded as of mid-evening Tuesday.