Camouflaged from head to toe, with a night vision scope for seeing and a "whisper microphone" for talking, Dean D'Camera crawled into thewoods to take up surveillance of the Brown family's house on Spring Road in Laurel's rural Bacontown section.
And he carried his gun. The suspected drug dealers inside would be coming out to patrol the property's perimeter, carrying flashlights and weapons, leading a pit bull on a leash.
"We pretty much laid on our bellies in the bushes. I guess we were 50 feet from the house," Officer D'Camera recalled. "One night (a suspect) came within two feet of stepping on my head and she didn't see me. She walked right up to the house, made a buy and walked back past us down the trail."
The stakeout was part of a two-week county police operation to gather information that would drive the Brown family from the home on Spring Road, a dead-end lane in the rural neighborhood. D'Camera, a third-year Western district patrol officer, knew that elderly Bacontown residents were fed up with the drug sales and prostitution on the road.
A chat over a beer with a state lawmakerhad given D'Camera the idea to use a new law to drive the problem away. That's how David Brown Sr. came to be the first property owner inthe county to be charged under the "Abatement of Nuisance Law," which took effect July 1.
The law allows prosecutors to take property owners to court, where a judge can do anything from setting conditions for the owners to stay on the property to forcing the owners to sell.
A civil suit filed last week in District Court charges the 70-year-old patriarch of the Brown family, along with a dozen family members listed as "tenants," with operating their drug ring out of their house and a run-down trailer that had stood on the grounds.
In thesuit, the county asks the court to order the owners off the property, allowing the county to seize the property or buy it from the family.
Assistant State's Attorney Trevor A. Kiessling Jr., head of a unit formed to pursue property forfeitures from drug dealers, talked yesterday of the county's options. He said the county may improve the property and allow a homeless family to move in, or it may knock down the house and use federal funds to build low-income housing.
The least acceptable solution, he said, would be to allow the house to be left vacant -- and available for drug users and dealers.
The 17-member Bacontown Civic Association, a plaintiff in the suit, is headed by Audrey Garnett. Garnett, who was raised in Bacontown and returned 15 years ago to live in a house near the Browns, said she was hopefulthe end the problem is near, but years of frustration showed when she said, "It could turn out this was for nothing."
She said she regrets her decision to move back "every day," but she said she would not leave. "That's my house. I'm a taxpayer. The drug people don't own any property. They don't pay any taxes. Why should I move?" she said.
And she had praise for D'Camera. "He's been working very hard trying to clean up this problem," she said.
D'Camera said Delegate Marsha Perry told him last July of the new nuisance law. He said he began compiling statistics showing police had received 1,300 calls for service in Bacontown since Oct. 1989, including 166 calls for drug activity. Of these calls,members of the Brown family or their address were mentioned in 40 calls.
D'Camera said yesterday that although there are only five houses on Spring Road, the intersection of Spring and Whiskey Bottom roads is one of the top five intersections in the county for drunken driving arrests. He said he took his numbers to hissupervisors and suggested they use the new law on the Browns.
Thebrass loved the idea, he said, and a task force was formed in September. After two weeks of surveillance and drug buys made by undercoverofficers, police armed with a search warrant and 17 arrest warrants raided the Brown home Oct. 11.
Trial on the nuisance complaint hasbeen set for Nov. 12. Kiessling said yesterday he hopes to reach an agreement with the Browns that will allow both sides to avoid a two-year legal battle under forfeiture laws.
Brown's lawyer, Gerald Kunes, acknowledged yesterday that the county, because it can always go through with forfeiture proceedings, is holding a lot of strong cards.
Kunes wrote a letter proposing the county give Brown six months to sell his land under the condition that Brown's sons and grandsons be barred from the property, but Kiessling said yesterday he wants the Browns out sooner than that.
Kunes said the elder Brown "might have" known of the drug dealing, but he said the man was the victim ofhis "unmanageable kids." The raid was a "blessing in disguise," Kunes said, because "it gets the kids out of there and puts an end to allthis nonsense."