Shopowner's lawsuit may test the city's padlock law


September 12, 2008|By PETER HERMANN | PETER HERMANN,

The Linden Bar and Liquors on West North Avenue and Jimmy's Carryout on East Hoffman Street are similar in many ways.

Neither establishment has windows. Both occupy stretches of Baltimore real estate that residents, officials and everyone else gave up on long ago. The stores are a necessity in neighborhoods abandoned by other merchants, but also contributors to neighborhood blight.

And both establishments, according to city police, once welcomed drug dealers and their guns as much as they did the customers and their cash.

Frustrated with the owner of the Linden Bar, police padlocked his store, saying he failed to implement reforms needed to stem a tide of violence. The same department gave the owners of Jimmy's a reprieve this week, saying Fat Sing Li and Ji Ying Yu Li presented an enhanced security plan approved by the city and the neighborhood.

That leaves Chang K. Yim, who owns Linden Bar and Liquors, a bit peeved. His hearing before the Police Department went forward as scheduled. He lost, padlocked his shop Aug. 18 and promptly filed a lawsuit in Baltimore Circuit Court against the mayor, the City Council and the police commissioner.

Now, Yim is marching outside City Hall. This week, he was out in the rain, pushing his 3-year-old daughter Sue in a baby carriage and accompanied by his wife, Young. They were holding signs - the little girl's read, "Linden is the victim too."

Yim handed out a three-page typewritten statement - available, along with other documents, on the Baltimore Crime Blog - saying, "Punish the Criminals, Don't Punish Us." Another line: "Padlock shut down not our business, but also our dreams too."

City police deemed Yim's store a public nuisance, pointing to a fatal shooting inside in July and numerous reports of drug dealing. The commander of the Central District said at the hearing last month that the Linden Bar had more drug calls than any other address in the patrol area.

Yim counters that many of the drug calls came from him, and now he feels the police are using his diligence against him. "The police department has it all wrong," his statement says. "In order to get rid of the problem you first must get rid of the criminals. This is accomplished by uniformed police presence in the neighborhood."

In fact, Yim said for the first time that about a week after the fatal shooting, he saw the suspect, whom he recognized from the store's surveillance tape, near his store and quickly dialed the cell phone number of the homicide detective, enabling police to make a quick arrest.

Yim had been reluctant to go public with this information, fearing retaliation in the stop-snitching culture that defines parts of Baltimore. "I don't care anymore," he said, adding that he didn't have to make the call.

Shot back police and City Hall spokesman Sterling Clifford: "There are lots of things he didn't have to do. He didn't have to allow his store to be used by drug dealers for month after month, leading to a homicide."

By contrast, Clifford said, the owners of Jimmy's worked with police and the neighborhood on a plan that addresses "each and every concern."

Problem establishments are the bane of city neighborhoods, and people who live near them often ask why it is so difficult to get rid of them. How many complaints does it take for the liquor board or the police to act? Back in 2001, a city judge ordered a market in Park Heights bulldozed after police complained it was nothing more than a shopping center for heroin and cocaine.

The Maryland Court of Appeals wouldn't allow it, ruling the owner couldn't be linked to the dealing and thus couldn't be held responsible. That was an early test of the city's nuisance abatement law.

Yim's lawsuit could be the first test of the padlock law. The suit argues that city police - technically, members of a state agency - have no authority to enforce a city ordinance to shut a store and that the action amounts to an illegal seizure of private property by the government.

It's not easy to clean up a neighborhood.

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