City of Sacramento sues landlord for allowing his property to become a common place to buy and sell drugs.
CORRECTION Feb. 12, 2014: The location of the apartment building is in the Old North Sacramento neighborhood. References in an earlier version of this story misidentifying the neighborhood have been deleted.
Sacramento landlord "Sam" Sukhu admits there are problems at his Old North Sacramento apartment building.
"There's more dealing on the alley way here than on Wall Street," Sukhu said in a recent interview. "I'm taking my responsibilities, taking care of it."
The city disputes Sukhu's claims that he is "taking care of it."
911 dispatch records show police have responded to the 10-unit complex at 2444 Empress Street at least 85 times since April 2011. Most of the calls were for suspicious activity, drug deals and fights.
Sukhu, who has owned the property for 18 years, says he is doing his part to clean up the criminal element in and around the apartments.
"Well, we'll do whatever the city wants us to do. The neighborhood is such. I, as one owner, cannot correct the city's problem."
Two tenants claim Sukhu has turned a deaf ear to their pleas for help to stop drug dealing, prostitution and loud partying taking place at the apartments.
One tenant, who preaches to Old North Sacramento residents about the dangers of drugs and crimes, says he was caught in the middle of an argument and eventual shooting outside the building this past December.
"Gunfire started shooting off maybe 5 seconds into their yelling back and forth," Rev. Paul Bryant Sr. said.
Bryant pointed out two large bullet holes in his car, and he told how more bullets hit other vehicles in the apartment parking spaces.
That shooting led to one of those 85 Sacramento police calls to the apartments.
Bryant said, "They're [police] honestly here more than me. I've had it where they question me."
The city of Sacramento now wants Sukhu to repay the costs of policing the problem. It has labeled the property a "public nuisance," and it filed a lawsuit to force the landlord to make improvements and pay for the city's costs to date.
The suit claims Sukhu violated the city's health and safety, public nuisance and social nuisance codes. In alleges that since April 2012, " … there have been no less than 5 arrests made at the subject property, all involving the possession of, the sale of, the purchase or the intent to sell controlled substances."
One week after Bryant's car was shot up, narcotics detectives raided the apartments. Deputy city attorney Beau Parkhurst said police found " … large amounts of cash, digital scales, packaged for-sale Zip-lock baggies."
Parkhurst also said, even as officers made the bust, they witnessed another drug deal taking place.
In the lawsuit, the city asks the court to fine Sukhu up to $25,000 for health and safety code violations. It requests another $20,000 to compensate the city for administrative and policing costs, and it wants the landlord to pay all court filing and attorney fees.
The Sacramento City Attorney's Office also wants a judge's order that will demand Sukhu to place signs
on the front and back of the building warning visitors.
"It lets people know that maybe this isn't the best place to go and deal drugs out of at this time, because police are aware of it and it's under the supervision of the court," Parkhurst, said.
The signs would be made at the city sign shop at a cost to Sukhu of $150 each and include this specific language in capital lettering:
DRUG AND GANG FREE ZONE
NO DRUGS, NO DRUG DEALERS, NO PAROLEES, NO PROBATIONERS, NO GANG MEMBERS, NO LOITERING OR DRINKING ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES OUTSIDE
THESE PREMISES ARE BEING WATCHED BY THE SACRAMENTO POLICE DEPARTMENT TO ASSURE COMPLIANCE WITH THIS ORDER
WARNING: REMOVING OR DEFACING THIS NOTICE WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM THE COURT IS A VIOLATION OF THE COURT ORDER
When asked about those signs, Sukhu said, "I cannot control people coming in and going out. That's people's activity. I can't monitor that. That's not my responsibility."
Sukhu said he runs credit checks on prospective tenants, but as far as screening for felons goes, he said, "Criminal background, we do not do that. I don't have the capability to do that."
A former tenant agreed with the landlord. Dre Flemings said, "The ghetto is the ghetto wherever you go." He said the criminal activity outside Sukhu's apartments is common place in the neighborhood.
But the city says Sukhu can do a better job of policing his apartments. The deputy city attorney said Sukhu can begin by replacing or repairing surveillance cameras which haven't worked for several months.
Sukhu said he will make those repairs within the week and that he will do whatever the city wants to correct the problem, within reason. He said he will not commit to paying the fines and hanging those signs without a court order.