South Carolina

‘Irresponsible and careless and thoughtless’: Vista shooting gunman gets federal prison

A felon who was involved in the September 2017 shooting that injured seven people in Columbia’s Vista district will spend more than six years in prison.

Maleik Houseal, 23, of Newberry, pleaded guilty last year to a federal charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis sentenced Houseal Wednesday to 77 months, or just under 6.5 years, in prison.

Houseal was among the seven people injured when gunshots erupted in the popular Columbia nightlife district as bars closed in the early hours of Sept. 16, 2017. Federal prosecutors said in a release that Houseal had been shot in the hip two weeks earlier and was involved in an ongoing gang dispute in Newberry that came to a head that night.

As people spilled into the streets after the now-defunct Empire Supper Club closed around 2 a.m., Houseal went to a parking lot and got a gun he had stored on top of a vehicle tire, prosecutors said. Houseal then returned to the sidewalk outside the club, located at the intersection of Lady and Park streets, where he encountered the other group of people from Newberry as they went to their cars.

“As the other group left the club parking lot, they fired weapons from their cars in Houseal’s direction, striking Houseal and others,” the release states. “Houseal ran after the cars while firing his 9mm handgun in their direction, discharging all 15 rounds.”

Houseal stashed the gun in a pile of chairs outside the club, prosecutors said.

The victims’ injuries ranged from broken bones to paralysis. A Kentucky woman, who was in Columbia for that weekend’s football game between the University of South Carolina and the University of Kentucky, was shot in the face as she stood outside a bar talking with other revelers.

Federal law prohibits Houseal from possessing firearms and ammunition because of prior convictions for burglary, carrying a firearm in a public building, carrying an unlawful weapon, obstruction of justice and possession with intent to distribute marijuana, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“To pop off 15 rounds in a crowded area is about the most irresponsible and careless and thoughtless thing you could do,” Lewis said in denying Houseal’s motion for a reduced sentence based on his claim that the other group fired shots first and that he was merely defending himself. Noting Houseal’s prior criminal record, she added, “you’re exactly the reason we have [firearm] laws like that.”

Houseal still has pending state charges of unlawful possession of a pistol and possession of a weapon by a person convicted of a violent crime, Richland County court records show.

Another one of the shooters, John Earl Bates, pleaded guilty to state charges; however, sentencing was deferred, according to court records.

Teddy Kulmala covers breaking news for The State and covered crime and courts for seven years in Columbia, Rock Hill, Aiken and Lumberton, N.C. He graduated from Clemson University and grew up in Barnwell County.