JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Johnson City police joined a meeting with Monarch Apartments management and residents Wednesday as the department tries to fully solve a fatal shooting case there.
Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) Lt. Don Shepard said the meeting was a positive step as Tarantino Properties, Monarch’s Houston-based owner, attempts to improve security at the four-building complex that caters largely to East Tennessee State University (ETSU) students.
“They’ve done some things to the doors to prevent easy access, I heard they’re working on gates, they’ve ordered some more security cameras,” Shepard said. JCPD Chief Karl Turner told News Channel 11 on Jan. 3 that prior to the fatal shooting, despite relatively high numbers of assaults and at least two 2021 shootings, Monarch’s management hadn’t established lines of communication with JCPD.
“So all of these things is a good place for them to be, it’s a good thing that they’re listening, they’re also asking our input, so we’re giving ideas too,” Shepard said. “Hopefully if we all come together we can make it a safer place.”
Shepard also briefed News Channel 11 on JCPD’s investigation into the Jan. 1 shooting death of 19-year-old Ja’Shon Yates of Kingsport at Monarch. Police arrested Dae’Vo Jennings Worrell, 22, Jan. 5 and charged him with 12 counts of reckless endangerment, but have said upgraded charges are possible.
The shooting occurred during a very crowded New Year’s Eve party, at about 2:30 a.m., and investigators continue conducting interviews trying to get a complete picture of a chaotic scene that saw people jumping out of windows and off balconies following the gunshots.
“We’ve had some success, but it kind of trickles with these types of cases,” Shepard said.
A number of witnesses were underage, including some who were under 18, and that has presented some hurdles.
“It’s really incumbent upon us to talk to everyone we can and to locate everyone we can in order to get justice for Ja’Shon Yates,” Shepard said. “It’s going to take time.”
Asked whether he thinks a crime more serious than reckless endangerment was committed, Shepard said yes.
“A man died,” Shepard said. “A man was shot three times. That’s not an accident in my opinion from what I’ve seen over the years. We’re very confident in our ability to find those answers.”
He described the many hours detectives continue putting into the case as similar to trying to look at the center of a clock from as many points on the clockface as possible.
“We don’t want to take half of that clock so to speak and make decisions and make arrests or jump the gun. We want to make sure we go around the dial, we talk to people who’s involved that saw it from all these different perspectives so we have a better idea what we’re dealing with.”
Police need people who have information to come forward without fear of reprisal from them, Shepard said.
“I would suggest to them, ‘hey, do your part, try to seek justice for somebody. This could have been you.’
“We have to have it all in order to be able to make these decisions and take the best case we can to District Attorney (Steve) Finney’s office.”
Changes at Monarch
Shepard didn’t attend Wednesday’s resident meeting but said it include police, management, Monarch’s private security staff, residents and even some parents.
“There’s younger adults there and their parents are still very involved in their life and they’re concerned about their safety,” he said.
Shepard said it will take continued investment by management, involvement from residents and collaboration with police to make Monarch safer and keep it that way. He said he thinks the complex’s owners are building a “foundation” at this point.
“You’re going to get more reaction out of people if they feel like they’re being listened to and it certainly feels like Monarch and the management is trying to get that done,” he said. “Certainly we’re always up to the task of trying to help them get that.”
Monarch resident Courtney Harvey was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting but said management has continued to add security measures. She sent a Wednesday update from management to residents that reported completion of building access restrictions, among other things.
Harvey said keycards are working now, all exterior doors are locked and cards only allow access to that person’s building and the leasing office.
The report said more than 50 additional surveillance cameras will arrive over the next couple weeks and “be installed throughout the community to increase coverage and surveillance of property.”
It also provided numerous safety recommendations and reminders of policies related to safety, including prohibitions on propping doors open, not loaning keycards and having more than two guests at a time. The update warned that violating the policies could result in eviction after a second violation.
The complex is also towing cars without parking passes with “zero tolerance enforcement” pending distribution of new parking passes. It’s also posting an armed patrol guard at all times in the office in addition to having others patrol property.
Monarch is also using off-duty police to enhance security further and its update urges residents to reach out to JCPD if they have any information about what it continues to say are three non-resident suspects (including Jennings-Worrell).
The update says that “the resident associated with the suspect and incident has since been moved offsite, and the remaining suspects are not believed to have returned to the property post-incident.”
Finally, Tarantino has reviewed gate options and expects to install a gate over the next eight weeks or so, the update said. Access cards will be required to enter the property.