Madison is exploring legal action against Grandview Commons apartment owners after shootings

A 15-year-old girl died, and three other teens suffered injuries in the latest shooting at a housing complex, police said

Police lights. Scott Rodgerson/Unsplash

Madison officials are pursuing legal action to compel the owners of an apartment complex to make safety improvements among other changes after two young people died in two separate shootings at the complex within a three-month span.

Madison police are searching for suspects after a 15-year-old girl was shot and killed Tuesday evening at the Harmony at Grandview Commons apartments. Two 14-year-old boys were hospitalized with gunshot wounds after the shooting, and a 14-year-old girl suffered a graze wound, police said.

In July, 20-year-old Devon Grant died following a shooting in the driveway of the Harmony complex. Two men face charges including first-degree homicide in connection with his death. Since Grant’s killing, Madison police say there have been 136 calls for service to the complex.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

In a press conference Wednesday, Police Chief Shon Barnes said the department considers the complex to be a “priority location.” Since July, he said officers have been doing extra drive-by patrols in the area, and a community outreach officer has been visiting the complex and providing weekly programming for young people.

But Barnes also expressed frustration at the complex’s ownership, and said the city has begun the process of forcing changes by declaring the property to be a public nuisance.

The city first declared the affordable housing complex, which is owned by a company called Royal Capital, to be a chronic nuisance in 2020, after citing incidents including two shootings and a physical fight. That designation can result in fines if a property owner doesn’t make a “good faith effort” to make safety and quality of life improvements that lessen the “nuisance activity.”

A sign advertises the Harmony at Grandview Commons apartments at the intersection of Milwaukee Street and Milky Way in Madison on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023. Sarah Lehr/ Wisconsin Public Radio.

Management company says it’s working with apartment owners, city officials to improve safety

That nuisance abatement process ended in 2021, after city officials found Royal Capital, which had been using a different management company at the time, had complied with the city’s nuisance abatement plan.

Royal Capital did not respond to requests for comment. In a statement Thursday, representatives of Horizon Management Services, which manages the complex on behalf of Royal Capital, said they were “devastated to learn of the needless loss of life and multiple injuries caused by a violent episode on the grounds of the Harmony at Grandview Commons.”

The company said it’s assisting law enforcement in investigating the crime, and that it’s provided police with footage from the complex’s security cameras.

“Our team is working with MPD, property ownership and others to identify ways to deter future events at the Harmony,” the statement said. “This includes working with ownership as they continue their efforts to enhance security on the premises.”

A city ordinance allows Madison to designate a property as a chronic nuisance if it’s had been subject to at least three “enforcement actions” within an 90-day period. An enforcement action could include the referral of a charge, an arrest or a civil citation for a broad swath of crimes or code violations ranging from littering to theft to prostitution.

So far in 2023, the Harmony Apartments have not yet been subject to enough enforcement actions to designate a chronic nuisance, city officials said. But that could change as the investigation into Tuesday’s shooting continues.

“If there is an arrest for this latest homicide/shooting, we would evaluate the criteria at that time,” Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Zilavy wrote in an email to Wisconsin Public Radio.

In 2022, Monona City Council repealed its nuisance ordinance after the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue the Madison suburb, the Wisconsin State Journal has reported. The ACLU said a police officer emailed a female tenant’s landlord, saying the property owner was “potentially one call away” from violating Monona’s chronic nuisance ordinance because of repeated calls to police about the tenant’s abusive partner.

According to Madison’s ordinance, domestic abuse incidents may not be counted as “nuisance activities” for the purpose of declaring a property to be a chronic nuisance unless the “specific facts” are reviewed by the city attorney and police.

As of 2019, 37 of 40 major cities analyzed nationwide by the Policy Surveillance Program had some type of ordinance regulating “nuisance activity” at residential properties.

Email from city to property owners requests changes

Although Madison has yet to re-issue a nuisance declaration, the city attorney’s office sent an email Wednesday to Royal Capital executives, asking the company to make changes “as soon as practicable.”

“We are nearing a tipping point with The Harmony,” Zilavy, the assistant city attorney wrote to the company. “I am not saying this as a threat, but just so that you are aware, that if Royal Capital does not implement these suggestions, some of them forthwith, the City will be forced to consider legal action that would potentially take control of the property out of Royal Capital’s hands.”

The list of requests included installing more cameras, adding a security gate for vehicles, and hiring security staff. At the request of Alder Derek Field, the email also asked for more non-removable trash cans and for permanent outdoor benches, so that adults can more easily watch children as they play.

Field, who’s represented a district that includes the apartments since April, said Royal Capital has yet to follow through on longstanding promises to offer youth programming.

“That property on the edge of town houses some folks with some pretty high needs,” Field said. “We need human services providers on site meeting the needs that those folks have and providing activities for the kids to do because it’s at the edge of town. The neighbors to the property are a quarry, a goat farm, and a highway and then a single-family home neighborhood with no neighborhood amenities around.”

Anthony Cooper, who leads a gun violence prevention group called Focused Interruption, said more investment is needed in the neighborhood, especially in young people.

“It’s very tragic that we have to mourn another child we have before these things happen,” Cooper said. “It’s very tragic that we have to, we have to mourn another child we have before these things happen.”

During Wednesday’s news conference, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway told reporters Madison police are making progress in seizing illegal guns and in reducing incidents of shots being fired. She urged gun manufacturers, however, to do more to prevent gun thefts and blamed the state Legislature for blocking gun safety laws.

“The death of a child is the worst thing that any city faces — it shocks our sensibilities,” she said. “My thoughts are with the family, the friends, the classmates and the neighbors of these young victims. Our entire community is in mourning for the young girl that was killed. But as I hope we understand by now, in a nation that is wracked with gun violence, thoughts and prayers are not enough.”

Tuesday’s killing was Madison’s 10th homicide of 2023.

The 15-year-old girl who died was a sophomore at Madison’s East High School. The Dane County Medical Examiner’s Office is not releasing her name because she is a minor, the office’s director of operations said. She’s been identified on social media and on a GoFundMe as Kyesha Miller.

Police release still frame of suspects, seek tips

Police say nearly 50 rounds were fired during the shooting, and that bullets struck nearby homes, including homes with children.

Surveillance video show a vehicle, believed to be a Lexus SUV, driving up to the complex at about 8:30 p.m. Four people got out of the car and began shooting, while a fifth person remained inside, investigators said,

“They fired round after round, not caring for who or what they may strike,” Barnes told reporters, calling it “a cowardly act of violence.”

The department has released a still frame from the surveillance video and is seeking tips at 608-266-6014 or p3tips.com .