In an effort to hold owners more accountable for ongoing criminal activities occurring at their properties, the Denison Police Department recently began taking a more aggressive approach to enforcing compliance with nuisance abatement law.

For properties the department has identified as having repeated and confirmed criminal activity, the addresses have been posted on social media, the owners were issued warning letters and additional actions were threatened if compliance isn’t attempted.

“We’ve had the ordinance for a while; we keep having problems at certain places over and over, and so we’re going to start aggressively enforcing it with properties that are a habitual problem,” Denison Police Lt. Mike Eppler said.

Last week, the police department posted on its Facebook page the addresses of three properties: 900 W. Walker St, 716 W. Sears St. and 830 W. Dubois St. In prepared statements about each property, police said they found evidence of criminal activity allegedly occurring at these locations from recently executed search warrants. In the posts, police ask the property owners “to rid or prohibit, from the location, any person(s) known to be or suspected to be involved in criminal activity.” If the owners do not comply, police say the property could eventually be closed or forfeited.

The statements also say the property owners have or will be served with a nuisance abatement warning letter. The letter states if the owner allows the nuisances or illegal activities to continue on the property, the police department and the Texas Attorney General’s Office will file a suit against the owner that could result in the property being closed. The letters urge the owners to comply and stop, or not allow, criminal activity at the properties “where the police department has a history of repeat violations.”

When owners do not take compliance action and the property is determined to be a nuisance through successful suit, the property will be closed for a year, according to the letter. The owner could then post a bond to reopen the property, but if the criminal activity continues, the bond is forfeited and the owner could incur other penalties.

“The purpose of it is to gain compliance with the law from the property owners, and they would of course do that by enforcing their rules, whatever their rules are, to their tenants that they have and stopping that,” Eppler said.

What police found

Denison Police executed a search warrant at 900 W. Walker St. on April 11, and the affidavit for the warrant details alleged criminal activity at the residence. The affidavit states that police believed the residents of the property, identified as Cassius Montel Fitzpatrick and Cerenyti Marshae Rhodes, possessed a usable quantity of methamphetamine and other illegal narcotics.

The affidavit also details alleged criminal activity dating back to February 2015 involving Fitzpatrick. On multiple occasions, Fitzpatrick was found in possession of illegal narcotics or related items, which combined with information from confidential informants and sources led police to suspect Fitzpatrick was selling and distributing marijuana out of the Walker Street residence.

In July 2016, the affidavit states police were watching the house on Walker Street when a woman drove up and entered the residence. About a minute later the woman exited and drove off. Officers pulled the vehicle over for a traffic violation and found the woman in possession of marijuana. The woman told police she purchased it from a woman inside the house.

On April 10, the affidavit describes an incident where a confidential police informant, equipped with an audio and video recorder, purchased marijuana from Fitzpatrick outside the Walker Street house.

The next day police searched the property and took into evidence a glass jar with marijuana, digital scales, a plastic bag with a red rock like substance, plastic bag with marijuana residue, about $450 in cash, bullets and a plastic bag with marijuana. The evidence inventory attached to the warrant affidavit did not list the quantities of the marijuana seized.

A property owner

Cecil Rhodes, owner of the West Walker Street house, said he received the warning letter last Friday morning. He said his granddaughter lives at the identified address, and her boyfriend was also staying there before he was arrested and jailed. Rhodes said he didn’t know what he would do in response to the letter.

“I don’t understand it; I’ve never seen them enforce something like this before,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes noted that police have responded to the property in the past, but it didn’t seem like it was that many times. He said the granddaughter’s boyfriend was found in possession of marijuana a couple of times, but he said he doesn’t see how he can dictate who the granddaughter can and cannot have over at the property. The house originally belonged to his mother, he noted.

“We try to comply with the law as best we can,” Rhodes said. “My granddaughter has to have somewhere live. We don’t have room enough in our house, her dad doesn’t have room enough in his house, and since my mother’s house is vacant, we let her stay there.”

Rhodes said he’s not sure what he is suppose to do, and he said he would like the police department to provide better defined stipulations for why he was issued the letter. He said he doesn’t know how the police department decides what properties to target under nuisance abatement.

“Just to say that if we don’t control it, they’re just going to take the house away — that’s like putting another person on the street, it looks like to me because she wouldn’t have anywhere to go,” Rhodes said.

The properties are targeted under nuisance abatement law for any type of criminal activity that’s repeated at the same property, Eppler said. He said there is not a required number of calls or a threshold to cross, rather it is properties that have a cycle of criminal activity that occurs frequently. The department examines the properties on a case by case basis, he said.

“If we get a lot of calls in a particular area, a particular residence or place in a short amount of time — that could be a factor, of course,” Eppler said. “If it’s a property, we may have had ongoing problems for several years that just keep on, then certainly that’s a factor as well. Each one is different, and that’s why it’s a case by case basis because the circumstances can be different for each one.”

Eppler said the department doesn’t tell the owners what they should do in order to comply as it’s up to the owners to try and correct the problem.

“That’s up to them — what they want to do to correct it,” Eppler said. “Of course their options would be to talk to their tenants, tell them whatever it is they want to tell them — they’re creating a problem by their behavior — and they can take whatever action they deem necessary up to, including eviction if they so desire to do that.”

Eppler said the department understands the eviction process can be lengthy. As long as the property owners show good faith that they’re actually attempting to comply, Eppler said the department will work with them.

Rhodes said if he evicts his granddaughter then she will be out on the street. He said as long as the boyfriend stays in jail, there should not be a problem, but it’s really the tenant’s responsibility for the guests they have in the house.

“Who she invited in is her problem — I guess it’s ours too now,” Rhodes said. “Even if we evicted him, how do we know she’s not going to get someone else in there now that’s going to do the same thing. What are we suppose to do?”

Eppler said the owners should take whatever steps they feel necessary within the law.

“We’re not going to dictate what he needs to do,” Eppler said. “We just want him to be in compliance and not have criminal activities going on in the homes like that.”

The other houses

Public records identify the owner of the house at 716 W. Sears St. as Barbara Rae Baker. A call directed to her Friday was answered by a man who identified himself as her son. The man, who did not give his name, declined to let Baker speak to the Herald Democrat. The man said the reasons for not passing the call to her were due to a fear of retaliation and the potential harm to Baker’s reputation. He said police were putting a big target on the house by releasing the address.

“To me, it can do more harm than good because if someone tries to come up here and harass or assault my mother, then what’s to be done,” the man said. “Because the police are the ones lighting the fire.”

The man said the nuisance abatement actions taken by police were discriminatory, and he described the actions as harassment. He said Baker has a big family, and she knows everybody. He noted that some members of the family may have done things in the past that they’re not proud of.

“How can you sit here and tell someone who they can and can’t have at their house?” the man said.

The owner of the Dubois Street property could not be reached for this story.

Eppler noted that the nuisance abatement actions do not replace criminal prosecution for the individuals responsible for the criminal activity, but police are asking the landlords to help so the cycle can be broken.

“Because sometimes people get out of jail, and they go right back to doing the same thing again,” Eppler said. “Criminally, they’re responsible.”

Over the years at some of the troubled locations, Eppler said neighbors have called and reported the criminal activity. He said the reasoning behind posting the addresses online is to let the public know that police are taking action.

“Because a lot of people do make calls to us and let us know about activity in certain areas, just like these homes,” Eppler said. “Especially the one on Sears where we’ve been out there multiple times, and we had multiple, multiple, multiple calls from the neighbors reporting all of this. It’s letting people know we’re doing something about it.”

Denison Mayor Jared Johnson said these recent actions are an initiative driven by the police department, but the leadership in the police department worked with the city manager to implement it.

“I think it’s just another step in helping keep our community safe and help clean it up frankly,” Johnson said. “Our police department does a good job in staying in-tune to the various needs of the community, and this is another step in helping us as a community move forward and really run some of the issues out of town.”

For those who may have a unique circumstance, Johnson said he recommends they talk with the police department and maintain open communication. With any policy implemented by the city, Johnson said officials are open to talking about it.

“Just like any other policy, once it’s implemented if we find opportunities that we can change things, tweak things or revise things because of issues that we see that are a burden on our citizens, we are always open minded and looking to achieve any modifications necessary,” Johnson said.