American Legion Post 89 Manager Seeking Options For Moving Post in Wheeling

Photo by Janet Metzner Eugene Bernie, manager of the American Legion Post 89 in East Wheeling, speaks Monday evening attendees at the East Wheeling Crime Watch meeting.

WHEELING — The club manager of American Legion Post. No. 89 said he’s willing to take steps necessary to help the community, including moving the private club if someone can help him find a place where the legion can relocate.

“If anyone can come up with a building with equal value, we will relocate,” Eugene Bernie said, during an East Wheeling Crime Watch meeting Monday evening. “We have no problem doing that.”

The legion operates three apartments, a youth center and the bar, and another place would have to accommodate those activities, he said. “We’re taking steps … whatever we can do,” to alleviate issues the bar may cause in the community. “We don’t condone these shootings. We don’t want anybody to get hurt,” he said, refering to a second-degree murder Oct. 8, 2015, that involved a shooting from the front step of the bar, and a shooting by a single gunman Dec. 30 in Lane E nearby where 14 shell casings were found.

About 23 people, including six members of the police department, attended the meeting coordinated by East Wheeling resident Sister Mary Palmer, and police Lt. Kevin Kettler and Sgt. Josh Sanders.

Chief Shawn Schwertfeger responded to residents’ concerns about the bar, and to Bernie’s concerns that anything that occurs in the area is blamed on the bar.

Schwertfeger said he’s not ready yet to recommend that the city of Wheeling declare the bar a public nuisance, although he may, upon finishing his data review of police calls and activity there. The process, he said, would be to make that recommendation to City Manager Robert Herron, who would take the matter before City Council.

The city has a law on its books allowing officials to try to shut down a business if they believe it’s a public nuisance.

“When you have a bar in a residential neighborhood, it’s going to naturally draw more people,” Schwertfeger said. And some disruptive activity could occur outside the bar because some bar patrons drink, get loud, maybe get into arguments.”

Bernie said he is willing to work on resolving problems, just as he has resolved prior problems of people hanging out outside the bar, and of jukebox noise that would flow into the neighborhood whenever the bar door opened. “We do what we can to make it right,” he said.

Bernie also suggested — as he did at a city council meeting last week — that the police department provide an officer to monitor outside the bar. That’s because Bernie has said he can’t control what goes on outside. “Whenever they do something (outside the bar, or nearby), everyone looks at the Legion,” to blame, he said.

In response, Schwertfeger said the city spent about $4,500 on overtime last year while working in East Wheeling.

Residents asked what is being done about Lane E nearby, where Lemroy Coleman’s body was found in October 2015, and where the shell casings were also found.

“I’ve put countless hours into this,” Kettler said, regarding a solution for that dark passage. He has networked with officials to get better lighting, and now plans to reach out to property owners, as well, to work on installing surveillance cameras and more lighting.

Residents raised significant concerns about heroin abuse in Wheeling in general, and about prostitution, specifically.

Kettler said the presence of prostitutes in an area “will be a barometer” indicating that “their poison is nearby,” referring to drugs.

While the department cannot make prostitution or small-time drug dealing the top priority, Schwertfeger said, police encourage anyone with information to contact police. Someone mentioned a possible instance of a mother and child in prostitution. That, he said, would be a top priority.