Communities use legal weapon against drug activity Program aims at 'nuisance' properties BALTIMORE CITY

August 17, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

Sylvia Fulwood marches west on East 20th Street, past the men congregating on the front steps of the boarded-up rowhouses, past the bare-chested teen-ager singing out "Five-O" as a police patrol wagon speeds north on Greenmount.

Heading toward two vacant houses on 21st Street, she carries a Top 10 list: top 10 nuisances in the East Baltimore-Midway and Barclay neighborhoods.

The list identifies abandoned houses where the junkies squat and rental properties where the tenants deal drugs. Under the newly established Community Anti-Drug Assistance Project, Ms. Fulwood plans to lead area residents into court to do something about "nuisance" properties that provide the setting for drug activity and its associated danger and violence.

The Baltimore state's attorney's office is working with city police, the mayor's office and the Community Law Center, a nonprofit legal aid agency, to coach long-suffering, law-abiding residents in seven city neighborhoods on how to use Maryland's 1991 Nuisance Abatement law.

The law, which has been used successfully in two test cases in the city, allows prosecutors or neighborhood groups to take civil action against the owners of properties where drugs are sold or used.

The law also provides for expedited proceedings in District Court and gives judges broad power to issue orders to property owners. Under the law, the judges can order yards to be cleaned, mandate who can and can't live at troublesome properties and even order the demolition of houses.

"The overall focus of this project is to empower communities to give them a tool to respond to the retail drug trafficking in their communities," said Michael E. Braverman, an assistant state's attorney who has been assigned to the program. "They can take these matters into their own hands."

Two test cases

Mr. Braverman, a former housing court prosecutor, has witnessed the law's effectiveness. Last year, he sued the owner and occupants of a rowhouse in the 1400 block of Division Street in West Baltimore. Citing a history of drug-related disturbances linked to the house, prosecutors asked a judge to declare the property a nuisance and evict the tenants. The case was settled when some of the residents agreed to move out and the out-of-town owner pledged to prevent a resumption of drug activity.

The other test case stemmed from a problem on the same block of Division Street. Members of Provident Neighborhood Association Inc. sued the owners of the Carver Homes Apartments, and the owner eventually agreed to meet with the community to do something about the blatant drug activity, said Michael A. Sarbanes, an attorney with the Community Law Center who worked on the case.

Last week, Mr. Sarbanes returned to Division Street to find the block clean and quiet.

"A year ago this time you couldn't get through this block. Both sides of the street were like a supermarket," said Division Street resident Mildred Baynor.

Asked whether any drug activity remains, Gloria Green, vice president of the community association, said, "If there is any, they're mighty calm about it."

Citing the results from the two test-case applications of the nuisance law, Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms decided to obtain money to use the law more routinely.

"I'm not going to try to suggest to you it is a cure-all," Mr. Simms said. "The addition of another alternative at least gives some signal to the community and to the public that someone cares about them."

His office applied in February to the Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission for a grant to begin the program. The prosecutor offered $17,688 in matching funds to go along with a $53,000 federal grant.

The application said the program, which is to start formally in September, when the newly hired coordinator and paralegal report for duty, would involve organizations in six communities: Booth-Boyd; Pen Lucy; Sandtown-Winchester; Rosemont-Franklin Square; East Baltimore Midway-Barclay; and East Baltimore Monument Street. Since then, Pimlico has been added to the list, said Mr. Sarbanes of the Community Law Center.

Mr. Braverman, Mr. Sarbanes and representatives of the mayor's office's Partnership for Drug Free Neighborhoods, have been meeting with community organization leaders to explain the program.

As a first step, the leaders were asked to identify the 10 biggest problem properties in their neighborhoods. Ms. Fulwood, a Community Development Corp. officer for East Baltimore Midway-Barclay, said she could have easily named 100 properties.

Mr. Braverman said a key element of the program is training residents to record observations that make for effective testimony in court. "They have to detail what they saw and not just make conclusions such as 'So-and-so deals drugs,' " Mr. Braverman said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.