Selbyville fight leads to stabbing

Delaware State Police arrested two Maryland men this week after an argument led to a near-fatal stabbing at Pomeroy’s Liquors & Tavern in Selbyville.

The incident took place Saturday, March 17, around 1 a.m., but reportedly began earlier that night, during a regularly scheduled dance inside the log-cabin tavern. According to Lynn Pomeroy, who was present that night and whose mother has long owned the business, two men began exchanging cross words because one was dancing with a particular woman.

Pomeroy said security guards broke up the verbal argument and asked one party to leave. One man and four others exited, but Pomeroy said they loitered in the parking lot before Pomeroy told them to leave. As the group was getting into their vehicle, the man who had been dancing, Raymont Johnson, 22, of Berlin, Md., and his acquaintance came outside and confronted the group, Pomeroy said.

According to the DSP, when Johnson confronted the group, he was allegedly stabbed several times by Marcus S. Purnell, 22, of Snow Hill, Md.

Azam Purnell, 21, of Snow Hill – who is prohibited from possessing a firearm, police noted – allegedly produced a handgun during the fight and allegedly began striking other patrons and firing off rounds as he was attempting to flee. The suspects were able to make to their vehicle and leave shortly before officers arrived on scene.

The Selbyville Police Department was notified to the gunshots and arrived just as the suspects’ dark-colored SUV was exiting onto Route 113. Selbyville officers were alerted to the possible suspects being inside the vehicle and initiated a traffic stop just south of Pomeroy’s and north of the Maryland-Delaware border. The five male occupants of the vehicle were placed in custody.

During an initial search of the vehicle, police said, a handgun was located where Marcus Purnell was seated. A computer check of the gun revealed it to be stolen from a location in Maryland.

Selbyville police called for DSP backup when they realized this could be a possible homicide case, said Police Chief Scott Collins of the SPD. The victim, Johnson, was initially taken by a personal vehicle to Atlantic General Hospital and was later transferred Peninsula Regional Medical Center due to the seriousness of his injuries, police reported. Collins said later that his injuries no longer appear to be life-threatening.

DSP detectives were able to obtain a search warrant on the vehicle and a large hunting knife was also recovered from it, police reported.

Marcus Purnell was charged with Attempted Murder 1st degree, Possession of a Deadly Weapon During the Commission of a Felony, Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony and Receiving Stolen Property. He was arraigned at JP Court 3 and committed to Sussex Correctional Institution for lack of $176,000 cash bail.

Azam Purnell was charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Person Prohibited, Receiving a Stolen Firearm and Disorderly Conduct. He was arraigned at JP Court 3 and committed to Sussex Correctional Institution for lack of $6,500 secured bail.

No other injuries were reported during the incident, and the three other passengers in the SUV were released without charges.

Not the first incident at Pomeroy’s

Pomeroy’s Liquors and Tavern last experienced a violent altercation Dec. 24, 2011, when a security guard was struck by a barstool while breaking up a fight inside. After that incident, Pomeroy told the Coastal Point that there would be no dances for the following few weekends until new doormen were hired, which he said has since occurred.

Similar violent incidents in Selbyville had contributed to a recently proposed town ordinance that would have restaurants stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m. and close by midnight. The goal of the draft ordinance was to prevent further late-night violence and additional expensive police patrols.

Existing restaurants could have gained an exception from the rule in a grandfather clause. However, the Town Council decided to further examine the proposed ordinance after many questions and concerns arose at a public hearing on Dec. 5.

“It’s incidents like this that are why we attempted to get this zoning amendment passed,” Collins told the Coastal Point in December 2011, noting that several establishments have had safety problems. “You’re not running what I would describe as a ‘restaurant’ at that hour.”

Pomeroy said last call for drinks at Pomeroy’s is around 12:50 a.m., the bar closes at 1 a.m. Music ends around 1:20 a.m., and patrons should exit by 1:40 a.m.

On March 20, Collins noted that the police most commonly go to Pomeroy’s in response to 911 dispatches.

Pomeroy this week expressed frustration at the negative attention the business has received. He disagreed with language in the Delaware State Police report that stated “the crowd continued to gather outside, where the argument escalated into a large fight,” as well as that “numerous” gun rounds were fired.

Pomeroy said the gun was fired once or twice, and the fight was only between two people, although five acquaintances and between five to eight security guards were nearby.

“The perpetrators started to leave, and the victim confronted him, and that’s when he got hurt,” said Pomeroy, who emphasized that only one punch was thrown – one that he said did not land successfully.

Pomeroy said his family knows most of their local community, having grown up with patrons or served their grandparents long ago, since Pomeroy’s first opened in 1924.

Nowadays, he said, dances are the only time there is trouble, usually at the end of the night, and between strangers or out-of-towners.

He said both the perpetrators and the victim on March 17 were newcomers to Pomeroy’s. Although he said the bartenders stop serving anyone who appears to be drunk, and they often offer rides home to those who appear to need them, alcohol still leads to bravado, he acknowledged, adding he is considering other entertainment formats.

“I’m not going to have [Friday night dances] until I have a format where I feel everyone is safe,” Pomeroy said, whether that means canceling events or setting up a sign-in or members-only registration, as takes place at the American Legion hall or Elks Lodge.

Currently, patrons are scanned with a metal detector, purses are checked and large, bulky coats are prohibited.

“We’ve never had an incident inside with any kind of weapon, because we’re very, very careful about that,” said Pomeroy. “What people put in their cars outside is hard to control.”

Pomeroy emphasized that tavern staff cooperated with law enforcement, directing them to the escape vehicle and warning them of the loaded weapon:

“The [suspects] would have gotten away had we not cooperated and pointed them out to the police. The police would’ve never made the stop. They’d have been in Maryland.”

“I’m encouraging my staff and the people who come forward, as I will myself – to testify as to what we saw, support law enforcement in doing the right thing,” Pomeroy said.

Pomeroy noted that his own father was a lieutenant colonel in the DSP.

“We didn’t want the officer to be surprised and those guys to be nervous… The last thing I want is for a policeman to get shot, a patron to be shot, anybody to be hurt… safety is my main issue,” Pomeroy said.

Pomeroy estimated 50 or 60 patrons were onsite that night. He commended his security staff for handling the indoor situation before it escalated.

“Anytime anybody fires a shot, I want my guys to run — and anybody else — because I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Pomeroy said. “What’s most important is for the patrons to be safe and have a good time.”