Criminal nuisance property law working, Denn says

Matt Denn
Matt Denn

Attorney General Matt Denn announced Thursday that an initiative to partner with law enforcement agencies to accelerate use of the state’s Criminal Nuisance Abatement has shown positive results.

A total of 38 nuisance properties have been addressed over the last year. Nine formal actions against alleged nuisance properties have been filed in the last 12  months. The other 29 properties were addressed with actions short of court filings, including written agreements with property owners to take steps to prevent criminal activity.

Criminal nuisances include drug activity, illegal firearm activity, violent crime, and prostitution.  Although the majority of the properties against which formal actions have been filed are located in  Wilmington, the state has also filed formal actions against properties in the cities of New Castle and Greenwood and in unincorporated areas of  New Castle County.

“The state’s Criminal Nuisance Abatement statute is a powerful tool for state and local officials to target properties that are central points for crime in their neighborhoods,”   Denn said.  “But the statute demands – as it should – that the government compile a substantial amount of evidence in order to take action against an alleged nuisance property.  The fact that we have been able to heighten our efforts in this area is a tribute to the law enforcement agencies that have worked with us to compile the facts, and to a number of attorneys and staff in our office who have dedicated time on top of their normal job responsibilities to be part of this effort.”

Some of the properties include:

  •  – 2312 Carter Street in Wilmington.  In March, DOJ filed a complaint alleging that illegal drug sales and other violent crimes (including a shooting) had occurred at this row home in Wilmington.  The case was resolved in May with the property owner agreeing to ban specific tenants from the property, screen all new tenants for criminal histories, and to hang a sign on the property notifying the public that particular individuals were not permitted on the property.
  • – 837 North Spruce Street in Wilmington.  In August, DOJ filed a complaint alleging that the property was a focus of drug sales in the area, and that the Wilmington Police Department had been called to the property 88 times since 2011.  The case was resolved in September by agreement of the owner/landlord of the property.
  • Clifford Brown Walk in Wilmington.  In April, DOJ entered into a consent agreement with the owner of 910 Clifford Brown Walk to resolve a Complaint that was filed against that property in December, 2015.  The Complaint alleged that the property was a center of drug dealing in the community.
  • 39 Holden Drive in in the Rambleton Acres development of suburban New Castle County (just across Route 273 from an elementary school).  Last month, DOJ filed a complaint alleging that the New Castle County Police have been called to this property 34 times since 2013, primarily for complaints involving drug dealing.  The New Castle County Police have made multiple arrests at the property arising from drug activity.  The complaint is currently in litigation in the Delaware Superior Court.
  • 118 Unity Lane in Greenwood.  Last month, DOJ filed a complaint against this property, which is completely encompassed by trees and thick foliage.  The complaint alleges that Unity Lane itself is riddled with potholes that were intentionally created by drug dealers to make it difficult for law enforcement officials to respond to calls on that street in a timely way.  The complaint alleges that wiretaps established by the Delaware State Police prove that the property, which is in an area known as “The Hole,” has been regularly used for the sale of cocaine.  The complaint is currently in litigation in the Delaware Superior Court.
  • 2101 North Pine Street in Wilmington.  In April, DOJ filed a complaint alleging that this property is a residence for multiple violent criminals, and that the Wilmington Police Department has been called to the property 47 times since 2012.  After unsuccessful efforts to persuade the property owner to agree to voluntarily abate the nuisance activity, this case is proceeding through the Superior Court process.
  • 1107 Washington Street in New Castle.  In May, DOJ filed a complaint documenting the fact that drug activity and prostitution were occurring at this property, located in a densely populated area of New Castle close to a number of schools and churches.  The property owner has failed to respond to the Complaint, and the state has a motion pending before the Court for a default judgment that will find that a criminal nuisance has occurred and order that it be abated.
  • The Gold Club (1031 South Market Street in Wilmington).  Last November, DOJ filed a formal complaint against The Gold Club, located on South Market Street in Wilmington.  The Gold Club had been the location of a number of shootings, and had required the Delaware State Police to respond to 237 calls since January 3, 2012.  The case was resolved in May, with a court-approved agreement between DOJ and the property owner that the property would be closed, would not be reopened by any business in which the current property owner had an interest, and could only be reopened without the court’s permission if it was sold to a new owner.

Earlier this year, the Department of Justice informed the owner of a Milford commercial property leased to a bar known as Longshot Sports Bar and Billiards that it intended to file an action against the property based on criminal nuisance activity occurring there on a regular basis.  The property owner evicted the bar.  After the bar’s eviction, the Milford Police Department reported that it had enjoyed its first weekend in two years without a call from the property.

On top of the 38 properties,  another 44 properties are currently being evaluated for potential criminal nuisance action, and 31 have been investigated but determined not to be appropriate for criminal nuisance enforcement.

The nuisance abatement statute was created by the General Assembly in 2000 to specifically address drug crimes, and expanded by the legislature in 2011 at the request of former Attorney General Beau Biden to cover other types of crime as well, with a specific focus on gun crimes.

Citizens who wish to have the Department of Justice investigate a potential criminal nuisance property should call (302) 577-5093.

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