By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Total Science, a junglist duo from the U.K., is behind the Snake Pit's DJ booth. Their beats have the primal feel typical of British electronica, but faster. Think Underworld on ephedrine. It's a fitting soundtrack to the night, because outside it's Trainspotting -- only on crack, not smack.
Dave Maddux, the club's manager, is standing at the edge of the 7-Eleven parking lot at 13th Avenue and Pearl Street, one of the most notorious drug corners in Denver. Just as he's lamenting the disintegration of the neighborhood, two men approach each other with subtle nods and strike a deal. Under the bright glare of the street lights, one of them pulls a brand-new crack pipe out of a small cardboard box, discarding the packaging in the corner trashcan. They head toward the alley to try out their purchases.
Maddux hardly blinks. In the last year, there's been so much crack dealing -- and in recent months, violence -- that he's come to expect it. But not accept it.
The crack zombies have driven away about 40 percent of his business -- "You can't walk a block without someone coming up to you and saying, 'You looking?'" -- so Maddux made it his mission to push back.
Tonight, like so many nights before, he holds court in front of the Snake Pit. But this warm July night is different. He doesn't know it yet, but tomorrow he and the club's owner, Tom Oberbroeckling, will have a falling out over the business, and Maddux will quit.
But because he and Oberbroeckling are longtime buddies and Maddux has invested so much in the club -- he's managed the Snake Pit for five of the eight years it's been open -- he won't give up his street sweeps. After a weekend away, the 41-year-old former banquet manager, whose true desire is to teach high school English, will agree to come back and walk the streets a few nights a week, yelling at any crackhead who dares to walk by, while completing his last semester at Metro State College, where he's earning his teaching certificate.
Maddux has called the cops so often they recognize his voice. He knows the regular users who come on foot and the ones who come by car. He can even rattle off their license-plate numbers. He knows the dark spots in the alleys where they go to smoke up their ten bucks. He knows the dealers by their street names. And they know him.
"They'll walk right up to me, and if I haven't seen them in a while, they'll say, 'Yeah, I did nine months in County,'" he says.
When Maddux first started managing the Snake Pit, the biggest menace on Capitol Hill was the occasional wino. Not anymore. Last month, Maddux found himself in the middle of a chase. A crack dealer running from the cops smacked right into the six-foot-two-inch, 240-pound Maddux. The guy fell down but made a quick recovery and took off again. With Maddux in pursuit, the dealer took something out of his pants and threw it over a fence. When Maddux caught up to him, he tackled the guy and held him down until the cops came. The police then went to retrieve the discarded item. It was a .45.
While Maddux made his nightly rounds a few weeks ago, a dealer looked out of an apartment window a block away and noticed him walking below. The dealer rushed outside, sprinted up to Maddux and said, "I know you. You manage the Snake Pit. You're the one always in our shit," Maddux recalls. "Then he lifted up his shirt and showed me his gun."
Maddux's boyfriend, a soft-spoken architect, was with him that night and freaked at the sight of the gun. "It took him ninety minutes to calm down," Maddux says. But the fact that he wasn't bothered by it bothered him. Adds Maddux: "That was the start for me realizing how insane it is that I've come to accept this as normal."
If the last few months are any indication, it just may be. In the early hours of April 18, a man walked into the 7-Eleven and pointed a crossbow at the clerk, then left the store and hopped into a Jeep. The clerk notified the police, who caught up to the guy and tried to pull him over. But the man sped away and then crashed into a light pole at 12th Avenue and Lincoln Street, where he got out and aimed the crossbow at them. The officers opened fire, and the man died a couple of hours later. On June 3, Eric "Tattoo" Humes pulled up to an apartment building on 12th Avenue and Pearl Street, where he was apparently going to sell drugs to two women. Instead, he pointed a gun at them, demanded cash and began shooting. Catherine Dixon died; Debra Bellamy survived. Police have made ten aggravated-assault arrests between Logan and Clarkson streets and 11th Avenue and Colfax between January and June; there were fourteen aggravated-assault arrests in all of 2002.
Maddux is well aware of the risks that come with confronting crack dealers -- especially gun-toting ones -- but he feels compelled to do something, although he has no illusions of curbing the the crack problem on his own. Even the Unsinkables, a neighborhood group that's been patrolling the area for years, can't seem to make a dent ("Shape Up or Ship Out," June 13, 2002). "I don't understand how they can be out there seven days a week, twenty hours a day," says Unsinkables president Kathi Anderson.