This Property Is Condemned

Everyone in the neighborhood knows the Walkers. Most wish they didn't.

According to Lieutenant Bricker, most nuisance houses come to the city's attention because of narcotics and weapons violations. In drug cases, the worst-case scenario for a homeowner is if police find paraphernalia like scales or bags of drugs packaged separately for distribution. In those cases, the city has the right to order the house vacated or to force owners to sell the house. Both actions require approval from a county court judge.

As a last resort, the district attorney's office can take a confiscation case to the state. Pending a district court judge's authorization, authorities can then seize the house and keep the proceeds of the sale.

However, Roger Beery, one of five detectives in the DPD's nuisance unit, says only about four or five people per year are evicted in Denver. Generally, he says, "We don't strike to draw blood, we just seek to level the playing field."

At this point, it seems many neighbors would prefer blood.
Many people assume that if police officers respond often enough to the same address, they'll figure out that a problem exists and find a way to solve it. "I thought when you got enough calls, you were a nuisance house," says the Walkers' next-door neighbor, Lydia Albright.

But according to Bricker, the sheer number of calls for service doesn't matter. Captain Marco Vasquez, the department's top commander in District 2, adds that neighbors have to follow through and sign a complaint if they want their 911 calls to amount to anything "You have to sign a complaint," says Vasquez. "Calling the police is not good enough." (So far, the only person who's signed a formal complaint against the Walkers is McBride.)

Detective Tyrone Campbell, formerly a Weed and Seed officer in the area, says he started working on the Walker house in late 1995 or early 1996 because of McBride's complaints. Campbell says police tried different approaches, such as talking to the city's Department of Zoning Administration and other city agencies, but little came of it.

"Sometimes they [city agencies] never showed up, sometimes they showed up and said there's nothing we can do," Campbell says. "A lot of times [the Walkers] just didn't open the door, and we'd be stuck. We'd sit up on [stakeouts], all different times and didn't see anything, so what do we do now?"

However, several city agencies have gotten into the act. After Weis-Heath called the Animal Control Division in December 1994, Donald Keys was issued a ticket for having a pit bull. He was fined $48 and sent to jail for a day when he refused to show in court. The dog was put to sleep.

Charles Meredith, a senior zoning specialist with the Department of Zoning Administration, says his agency inspected the house in September 1995 and found problems such as junked cars and gang activity. However, he says those problems were corrected the next month and that there have been no recent complaints.

Since 1993, when the city's office of Neighborhood Support Services began keeping records of such things, the Walkers have been cited for numerous code violations. Infractions ranging from rubbish and weeds to unsecured entries (generally, missing doors or broken windows) have been reported. However, virtually all the violations were corrected after one notice, and none required more than two notices.

Police captain Steve Allison, the former commander of District 2, says that in 1995 the district's Impact Team worked with Weed and Seed officers to keep an eye on the house. Allison says things got better over the next few months and that during that time, no complaints found their way to his desk.

When problems re-emerged, more police officers were brought to help out and the house was made a priority, Allison says. But he says the police lacked the right "opportunity"--a single incident that, in and of itself, was enough to put the Walkers away.

The city's Building Inspection Division conducted an investigation of the house this past July. Inspector Dave Emge found that the electricity and water had been turned off and issued the Walkers an order to vacate, meaning that no one was allowed in the house until the utilities were restored.

Neighbor Albright says that when that happened, the Walkers "boarded up windows and pretended that they didn't live there anymore." She says family members tried to steal water from her outside hose, so she had to remove the faucet handle and turn her hose on with a pair of pliers. She also says one of the Walker girls begged her to let her connect an extension cord to her house for power. Albright said no.

By September, the power and water were back on. The Walkers, though, still had a slew of other violations to deal with, ranging from bad floors to faulty plumbing.

In October 1997 the police department initiated what it calls Problem Solving Policing (PSP) as a way to address neighborhood problems. If there are two or more related incidents at the same address, an officer is ordered to analyze the problem, respond to it and then write a formal report.

The Walker home became a PSP house on November 3, 1997. McBride filed the initial complaint, says Captain Vasquez, alleging continued drug and prostitution activity, bad plumbing, filthy property and the continued presence of known drug addicts and drunks.

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