Jeorge Zarazua - Express-News
City work crews, with a judge's order in hand, evicted the 87-year-old grandmother this month, enforcing a rarely used state civil law that penalizes property owners who fail to curb crime on their land.
For Wilson's neighbors on Buena Vista Street, her eviction was a much-welcomed sight, bringing relief to an area they claimed had been overrun with drug dealers and users seeking their next fix. The neighbors said Wilson's property was the source of the problem.
Wilson was never arrested during any of those calls, but authorities said that wasn't the case with her 55-year-old daughter, Machell, as well as others who loitered there.
“There is only so much law enforcement can do,” he said.
Niño said that's when the city turned to its new enforcement tool: the Dangerous Assessment Response Team, or DART unit.
“We go after the property now, and say, ‘You, owner, have created this criminal activity, and unless you stop doing this, we're going to ask the judge to close that location,'” he said.
But, Pendleton said, the number of lawsuits shouldn't be an indication of the program's success.
“We measure success a lot broader than just which properties have we sued and closed, because a lot of times, when a property hits our radar, we start to communicate the problem and we get cooperation before it's necessary to sue,” he said.
“We're going after the worst of the worst nuisance properties, and it's not only based on criminal activity, but also code compliance issues,” Niño said, adding that the DART team will consider taking action against properties if they have been creating problems for at least two years.
He said the calls to police complaining about Wilson's property dated back seven years. Last year, the number of complaints numbered more than 100. This year, it was up to 80, he said.
“They were just selling, and the neighbors were upset and complaining about it,” Niño said.
He also said the house was deteriorating for lack of maintenance.
“I don't know how anybody could have lived out of that house,” he said. “It was bad.”
“There were people in there all hours of the night and day,” she said.
But Bias said Wilson, who has been diagnosed with dementia, was helpless to do anything and eventually either refused to fix or ignored the problems.
“She just started denying it after a while,” she said.
According to the judge's order, Wilson and daughter Machell aren't able to occupy or use the property for the next year. But if no criminal activity occurs there for the next nine months, the family would be allowed to return, according to the order.
If the Wilsons violate the court order, they could be fined and jailed up to 30 days for contempt.
“She's a little depressed because, you know, she's been there 66 years and for her to have to move out of her house, and even go to a new neighborhood, where she doesn't know anything, it's kind of hard for her,” Bias said.