Police hope to shutter houses of crime Repeat violations can invoke city law


One day soon, Luther Braxton may return to the house he's renting on Retreat Street and find it closed and padlocked.

The 73-year-old retiree has been convicted of renting rooms to prostitutes for the past 14 years. With more than a dozen arrests to back up their case, police are seeking to shut down the house under a 1986 padlock law being invoked for the first time.

He is not alone.

Residents of a house in the 700 block of East 30th Street also may be looking for new quarters because police provided evidence recently to show that the building -- located in a drug-free zone -- was being used for drug trafficking.

A third house, in the 1900 block of West Franklin Street, which police proved was the location of illegal drug activities, has already been closed and boarded by the owners for repairs but will remain on the department's watch list for violations by future occupants.

The padlock law was enacted in 1986 to close buildings where there is a history of narcotics, gambling, prostitution or lewdness, or trafficking in stolen property, said Michael A. Fry, assistant city solicitor.

When the law was first enacted, it required police to obtain two or more convictions and a third arrest within a one-year period before authorities could move to have a building closed.

"That was virtually impossible," Mr. Fry said. "All the defense attorney had to do was get one or two postponements, and you were not within the required time frame."

So in 1989, at the request of police, the City Council amended the law to extend the time period to 24 months. And now that two years have passed, Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods is wasting little time taking advantage of the amended version. District Court administrative hearings were held recently concerning three locations, and two others are scheduled for the near future.

Joan C. Ross, an administrative law judge, recently recommended that the house Mr. Braxton rents in the 1600 block of Retreat Street be closed for six months because of the prostitution.

Officer Kevin D. Buie of the Western District vice squad said he has been keeping tabs on the elder Braxton for more than a year. The officer said he has picked up prostitutes while working undercover on Pennsylvania Avenue and taken them to Mr. Braxton's house, where he rented one of four second-floor bedrooms for $5 a half hour.

The officer said the house is in disrepair, strewn with trash, discarded condoms and hypodermic syringes.

Commissioner Woods has final say in whether to close the house.

Mr. Fry said police were able to show that the house on East 30th Street was the scene of narcotics activities.

Neighbors were so frightened that they refused to testify against occupants of the building, the assistant city solicitor said.

Ms. Ross has recommended that the building be closed for one year.

The building on Franklin Street also was cited for drug trafficking, Mr. Fry said. However, because the tenants were evicted several months ago and the house is now closed and undergoing repairs, no action was taken, he said.

"The padlock law has been in effect long enough now that we are able to invoke it," said Dennis S. Hill, police spokesman.

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