• Longtime bartender Ivan and The Woodward co-owner Jeff Smith hope folks will start coming back to the bar. Photo: Jason A. Michael

Woodward Bar Shooting Suspect Arrested, Awaiting Competency Hearing

Co-owner Jeff Smith talks about security upgrades and rebuilding community trust

By |2021-11-08T13:20:33-05:00November 8th, 2021|Michigan, News|

It’s been just over a month since the tragic shooting death of 34-year-old Lance Sutherland just outside The Woodward Bar in Midtown on Sept. 29. Today, suspect Jovin Morice Taylor, 38, of Detroit, sits in jail awaiting a competency hearing while Woodward co-owner Jeff Smith tries to rebuild his club and its reputation. 

Witnesses reported that a verbal altercation in the bar took place between the suspect and an unidentified 36-year-old man. The exchange continued outside the bar and Sutherland, an innocent bystander, was fatally shot near a dumpster in the bar’s parking lot, less than 20 feet from the Woodward’s entrance. Police answered a 911 dispatch call at approximately 1:37 a.m. and found Sutherland unresponsive. 

Taylor was arrested on Oct. 13 in Palmer Park. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy charged Taylor with four counts: first-degree murder, assault with intent to do great bodily harm, felon in possession of a firearm and posession of second-degree felony firearm. Taylor was arraigned Oct. 16 in Michigan’s 36th District Court in Detroit, where a judge remanded him to jail. A probable cause hearing took place Oct. 25, and Taylor is next expected in court on Jan. 25 for a competency hearing before Judge Kenneth King.

Meanwhile, The Woodward, Detroit’s oldest operating LGBTQ+ bar, attempts to recover from the tragedy.

“Things have slowed down a lot,” said Jeff Smith, The Woodward’s co-owner, who estimated that business has been down since the shooting by about 50 percent. “I’m trying to figure out how to gain peoples’ trust and make them feel comfortable, and that, I think, is going to take some time.”

Smith has already hired new security and beefed up their presence in the bar. He is installing new metal detectors, an upgrade to the metal-detecting wands that had already been used by security staff. Smith said he can usually be found behind the bar on weekends and is open to hearing from customers about their concerns.

“I like the interaction with people where they can approach me if they have any concerns or questions or any recommendations or ideas of what would make them feel more comfortable,” he said. “I hope they would share them with me.”

Jeremy Toney, a close friend of Sutherland, used to frequent the bar.

“As of right now, I’m at a hard pause with the Woodward,” Toney said. “I love the place, and it’s like home, but in recent years, it has been unsafe, and this experience for me being so close, someone was actually murdered there, and it was my brother … I just can’t go there anymore… for right now at least.”

Ka’Juan “KHAOS” Hill was also a regular, but said he’s unsure if he will return.

“Obviously, The Woodward is a place that everyone goes to,” said Hill, who led a peaceful protest outside the bar the day after the shooting. “I would like to go back eventually. But if my friends aren’t comfortable, I probably wouldn’t go yet.”

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael joined Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. He has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author for his authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," released on his own JAM Books imprint.