Cocaine rains from window next door

October 28, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

The foot patrol officers had a simple job yesterday: clearing a parking space in front of an East Baltimore rowhouse for Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier and State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms, who were coming there to start action to close a suspected drug house.

The targeted house was at 1812 E. Pratt St. But unknown to the officers, drug dealers apparently lived in the house next door as well. As some officers were setting down red traffic cones, another officer observed a man standing in front of 1810 E. Pratt -- with a packet of cocaine tucked into a shirt sleeve.

Questioning the man, the officer learned that he resided at 1810 E. Pratt. The officer then questioned a man sitting on the steps of that rowhouse, and the two of them started to enter the building. About that moment, dealers inside 1810 E. Pratt apparently panicked -- tossing packets of cocaine from a second-floor window, into the hands of the officers with the traffic cones, police said.

Police moved in and arrested four people -- including both of those who had been questioned -- minutes before the police commissioner and state's attorney pulled up. Police said they confiscated three packets of cocaine. The rest, officers said, had been flushed down a toilet before they got inside. Police said they also seized $1,330 hidden in a sock.

Lt. Robert A. Haukdal of the Southeastern District said the suspected dealers probably thought they had advance warning of a raid when they saw the officers in the neighborhood. He added, "I haven't seen a raid yet where we set up red cones first."

Commissioner Frazier and Mr. Simms were seeking to publicize the use of a law allowing civil action against homeowners who constantly rent to drug dealers. They traveled to 1812 E. Pratt to post a notice of a lawsuit filed by the city against the owner, lawyer Lawrence S. London. Mr. Simms tacked a copy of the suit next to a bumper sticker proclaiming: "I'm not brilliant, my friends are stupid."

In court documents and a statement, Mr. Simms said Mr. London has "failed to take reasonable measures" against his tenant's drug dealing, "which was conducted openly and notoriously."

Mr. London, who police said owns the houses at both 1810 and 1812 E. Pratt St., was to be served with the lawsuit last night at his Baltimore County home. He will have to answer the complaint in District Court on Nov. 22, and must prove to a judge that he will make his rowhouse conform to the neighborhood.

In an interview yesterday evening, he said he has offered to donate the house at 1812 E. Pratt to the police for a substation. "I'm awaiting word from them to say, 'Yes, we want it.' "

Mr. London said his answer to the lawsuit, which he had not yet seen, will be this offer. Asked about Mr. Simms' charge that he has knowingly rented to drug dealers, he responded, "Absolutely not."

Mr. Simms called the house a nuisance to the community. "We are trying to punish problems such as this," he said. "There are homeowners in this block who don't want to put up with substance abuse."

Police said they have raided the house three times this year, arresting 10 people on drug charges.

Baltimore started using Maryland's 1991 Nuisance Abatement law in earnest two years ago. It 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, determine who can and can't live at troublesome properties and even order the demolition of houses.

More than 20 houses have been targeted, Mr. Simms said, but only two lawsuits had been filed prior to yesterday's. "The majority of landlords are responsible," he said.

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