Woman threatened with loss of home


An article in Monday's edition of the Howard County Sun incorrectly stated that the Howard County state's attorney's office is seeking court action against a Lothian woman for allegedly allowing drug dealing on her property.

In fact, the action is being sought by the Anne Arundel County state's attorney and does not involve Howard County.

The Sun regrets the error.

Mabel Barnett, 58, and her neighbors on Sands Road in Lothian have posted no trespassing signs, roped off a field and even bulldozed a trench along a dirt road to stop the nightly visits of drug dealers. But to no avail.

Police finally stepped in, but not exactly the way Mrs. Barnett expected they would. They arrested 17 people after a month-long investigation, but they also contended Mrs. Barnett, a cafeteria worker at Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro, was allowing drug dealing to take place on her 2-acre property.

Today, the Howard County state's attorney's office will seek a court order to take away her small, beige house with a picket fence and the nearby trailer where her daughter Kandi lives, claiming they are a public nuisance.

"I don't think I've been done fair," said Mrs. Barnett, whose house could be towed away. "They got the wrong driveway. They got the wrong house."

Police say heavy drug activity swirled around the home of Ms. Barnett, a dilapidated yellow trailer with a junked car in the back yard. They saw a drug dealer leaving the trailer in the 5200 block of Sands Road and found a rock of suspected crack cocaine in the trailer and suspected marijuana, police said.

But Ms. Barnett, 37, said the heavy drug use near her home is a problem of geography. She lives closest to heavily traveled Sands Road, and a narrow dirt road leading to a dozen other trailers begins at her driveway, splits and wraps around the Barnett property.

Police made several arrests on that dirt road, which they call Ms. Barnett's driveway. But she said they are wrong about the road )) and she doesn't want the drug dealers lurking behind her home any more than the police do.

"We've been caught in the middle," said Ms. Barnett, who lives with her three children.

The investigation of open-air drug dealing in the 5200 block of Sands Road was sparked by police and neighborhood complaints. Narcotics officers did weeks of surveillance and made undercover buys of drugs before descending on the trailers with search warrants. They arrested 17 people from as far away as Virginia and Howard County in early July.

Neighbors say the drug traffic began just over a year ago, when some tenants moved into two rundown trailers about 200 yards off Sands Road. The landowner, Alfred Johnson, 75, eventually got rid of the tenants, but the drug dealing continued, neighbors said.

The neighbors said they are grateful to the police for arresting the drug dealers who "came in and took over the place," but they said Ms. Barnett and her mother are innocent.

"I'll put it this way," said 72-year-old Compton Franklin, sitting under an old tree near Ms. Barnett's trailer. "They're about as good a neighbor as anyone wants to meet. And I've known the Barnetts 45 or 50 years."

Ms. Barnett argued that the police planted drugs in her trailer. "They brought it in, they aren't fooling me," she said. "But you know how that would stand up in a court of law."

But county police Sgt. Brian Noon, who supervised the investigation, said; "If she wasn't involved, why were there drugs in her house? I'm not saying she was involved directly, but there was probable cause to do a search, and a search warrant was executed, and the drugs were there."

After the complaint is filed in District Court in Annapolis, Mrs. Barnett will have a chance to argue her case in court.

On Friday she said she was happy the neighborhood seemed quieter but was shocked to hear there was any action being taken against her.

"I'm poor, but I'm going to have to get a lawyer," she said. "They're doing something wrong."

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