Domestic incidents. Drug activity. Calls of shots being fired. Assaults. A series of fights and noise complaints. A shooting death leading to murder charges in November 2019.
These are just a sampling of the onslaught of calls and incidents the Auburn Police Department has handled at 8 Delevan St. over the last year, exhausting police resources and terrifying neighbors, though the home owner said he feels a lot of the calls from neighbors have been unnecessary.
From July 31, 2019 to the morning of Sept. 11, 2020, there have been 88 calls requiring a police response at that one address, Auburn Police Chief Shawn Butler said. The frequency of incidents, which have resulted in various arrests, is one of the reasons why the Auburn government has taken steps, unprecedented in the city's history, to attempt to have the house condemned.
The latest action in that effort happened in the past few days. The city filed a complaint in the state Supreme Court in Cayuga County seeking an injunction to effectively seize and shut down the property. If successful, an injunction would provide an immediate remedy to the issue as the longer court process plays out, city officials said. A summons was served on the property owner Friday night by the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office.
Butler personally delivered a Notice of Public Nuisance and Opportunity to Abate Public Nuisance to the owner, who is at least a part-time resident there, in May. The owner is Brant C. Wright, who also lists an address in Moravia. The spring notice ordered corrective action halting criminal activity on the property to be taken within 30 days, or the city would file a civil complaint against the property owner, seeking year-long condemnation of the residence. That 30-day period came and went, Auburn Assistant Corporation Counsel Nate Garland said, without the public nuisance being abated, leading to the most recent action.
Garland said the city's usual process server felt unsafe serving papers to the 8 Delevan St. address, so the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office did it instead.
Butler said the APD began looking into what kind of relief the other residents on Delevan could receive after a homicide took place at the property last year. Three Auburn residents are accused of being involved in the shooting death of Joshua Poole, 36, on Nov. 15. Gage Ashley was charged with first-degree murder, Tyree Anglin was charged with second-degree murder and Lucciano Spagnola was charged with second-degree murder. At a press conference last fall announcing the arrests, Butler said the death was "another tragic and senseless outcome resulting from the scourge that surrounds the illegal activities and use of narcotics in our community."
The city's complaint said it became apparent to the APD during the homicide investigation that "the property functioned as a 'drug house,' and the various comings and goings of those individuals involved in illicit activity had become a blight on the neighborhood, homicide notwithstanding."
In an interview with The Citizen Saturday, Wright said he hadn't had a chance to look through the entire complaint yet, but said he felt many of the calls for service have stemmed from 911 calls from neighbors about "every little thing," such as a single loud noise. He said many of the incidents have not ended in arrests and added that some people who have been arrested on the property have been picked up for unrelated arrest warrants.
He said the November homicide was a robbery and home invasion and that he didn't know the three people charged with the crime. Wright added that he understands neighbors' concerns following the death.
"They overreact, and I understand that because of what happened, but that could have happened to anyone on this street," Wright said.
The building is "not a drug dealer house or anything like that," Wright said, though he mentioned some people who have been on the property during police visits have had drugs with them before.
A public nuisance ordinance has been on the city's books for decades but hasn't been used until now. Butler said Friday that Wright "lives there, he owns it, he's part of the problem." Butler said he told Wright back in May the APD can assist him but he has to "step up" and request the assistance. If there are people staying at the residence that Wright doesn't want there, Butler continued, the city can assist him with the proper steps to have those people evicted. Butler said he gave Wright his card, but Wright hasn't contacted him.
Wright said Saturday that he has tenants for the property, and those tenants have guests. He added that APD have told them they could help him if there were people at the property he didn't want there, and he had called the department to take them up on that before. However, Wright continued, officers have told him that his tenants are allowed to have guests and he can't remove them, so he feels is "caught between a rock and a hard place." Wright said he will do what he can to try to keep people away.
Even if the building is condemned for a year, Butler said, it likely won't completely solve the problem, since the residents of the house will go somewhere else.
"It goes way beyond quality-of-life issues. This residence fosters criminal behavior by many, many people, and it is our job, obviously, to rectify that for the good, tax-paying neighbors that surround that residence," Butler said. "So this was kind of a last-ditch effort, 'what can we do to try and rectify this?'"
Constantly sending officers to the house has also sucked up APD's resources, time and effort. The chief said this effects every unit of the department, including the drug unit, detective unit and the patrol unit that responds to every call connected to that property.
Butler added that he doesn't want Delevan residents to continue to contend with these problems in their neighborhood.
"It's got to be an absolute nightmare. I feel horrible for these people, I wish we could do more," he said. "I mean, I'm looking at these calls for service, we're there every other day — it's ridiculous."
If the city is able to get relief through the court, the process will likely be utilized in the future. The city has "a handful of problem properties," Butler said, they will target in the future if this is successful.
"I hope that it's a warning to our absentee landlords who own properties in the city, who rent and know that they rent to disorderly individuals. We're not going to tolerate it anymore. This should be a shot across the bow that if we get relief through the court action, then we're going to take every necessary action we can to hold you accountable," Butler said. "That's all it is. You are accountable. You can't just rent, walk away, collect a paycheck and not be responsible for the property or the comings and goings of what's going on at the property. You do have some responsibility to keep that property orderly for the sake of the neighbors in the city."
Another notable recent incident at the building was the arrest of Scott A. Corey Sr. in July 2020. The Finger Lakes Drug Task Force, the APD and state police in executed a search warrant at the residence, where Corey had been using the garage as a living area, and found a loaded "ghost" handgun — a weapon without serial numbers and is assembled in parts instead of being bought at a gun shop or another retailer — a small amount of the synthetic drug molly, money and scales. Corey was charged with second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, criminal possession of a firearm and possession or sale of a mislabeled dangerous substance.
A great deal of effort went into making the city's case against against 8 Delevan St. Garland said "certain legal elements that must be met" for an injunctive relief to be ordered. After the public nuisance notice's 30-day period ended in mid-June, a letter was sent out to people who live in the vicinity of the property. The letter explained the city was planning on taking legal action, and said it would help if they told their stories. Eventually, four people who live near by signed sworn affidavits on how living near this residence has impacted their daily lives, Garland said. He added that he hopes those affidavits help the court make a decision toward relief.
"I don't feel safe to sit outside or open up windows or doors," one of the neighbors said in a statement filed with the city's complaint. "Many times I am awake half the night with fights and arguments. ... There aren't enough words to say the hell that people on this street are going through."
Beyond the four who supplied affidavits, Garland said many people in the neighborhood told him they want to sell their houses "but they know they can't because of this particular house." Earlier this month, a person who lives nearby called him in tears, saying they were considering moving in with a relative.
"It really hammered home that the criminal justice system doesn't address all possible harms that are (inflicted) upon people," Garland said. "There's no crime of being a bad neighbor. There's nothing that penal law can really offer the residents of Delevan Street and the neighbors of Delevan Street, and so hearing from members of the community about how this house essentially terrorized them had an impact on me."
Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.
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