Years of illegal activity at two crime-ridden properties in the Los Angeles area have led city officials to file two nuisance abatement lawsuits as part of a dramatic step to clean up the corrupted areas.
LA City Attorney Mike Feuer announced the injunctions against the homeowners Tuesday, claiming their properties had become toxic to the surrounding neighborhoods.
"A single property can cause an entire neighborhood to go from being a safe place in which to nurture a family, to being a very dangerous place where every single step can be hazardous," Feuer said.
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A single family residence in the Vermont Square neighborhood of South Los Angeles at 1233 West 52 Street was targeted in one of the lawsuits. Mattie R. Sampson, 77, has owned the property for about 50 years. Aside from Sampson, her son Bobby Sampson Jr. was also listed in the lawsuit and described as a "senior, significant" gang member "who lives at the property when he is not in custody."
Sampson's home had become a "free-for-all location" where PCP was used and sold by "a rotating cast of gangster drug dealers, often working in coordinated groups and armed with guns..." according to the lawsuit.
The elderly woman's home became so familiar to gang members in the neighborhood they referred to it as "Miss Mattie's house," the lawsuit alleges.
The civil abatement action also sought to restrict Sampson Jr. from being allowed on the property at any time, for any reason.
But Sampson Jr. said the house is clean.
"There's nothing going on here now," he told NBC4's sister station Telemundo. "No gang bangers here, no drugs at the home. The police haven't been over here. Where's the problem?"
In a second similar lawsuit, David Lester Baxter, 78, was listed as the property owner of 5655 and 5657 Lexington Avenue in Hollywood. These locations became "the epicenter of criminal activity in (their) neighborhood," according to the lawsuit.
The properties are within 1000 feet of four schools, including an early childhood education center, and two parks.
Since 2003, around 75 arrests, 43 of which were narcotics related, were made at the location.
"The Hollywood property is more of a free-for-all flophouse for meth users, transients and prostitutes," Frank Mateljan said, deputy director of Feuer's office.
Although Baxter claimed he didn't approve of the presence of narcotics on the locations, he "enabled and allowed persons with extensive criminal histories to remain on the property...," according to the lawsuit.
"While the property owners may not have been directly arrested, the location that they are responsible for is facilitating this criminal activity," Mateljan said.
But Baker said it's nearly impossible to keep people off the property.
"These people scale the fences," he said. "They're told not to come around here. They just look at me like I'm from outer space."
But neighbors said the problem stems from a man who lives to the rear of Baker's property, Jody Baber.
Baber said he's just trying to help others.
"We just help out a lot of needy people and they just happen to be users of methamphetamines, prostitution sometimes. Yes, once in awhile they do," he said.
The properties in South Los Angeles and Hollywood are not the first of their kind. Problematic homes attracting criminals and illegal activity have long been a battle for city officials who said injunctions like these have been effective in the past.
Officials are urging anyone with knowledge of a toxic home in their neighborhood to call the city attorney's office at 213-978-8100.