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One of the few types of civil matters the District Attorney’s Office handles is nuisance actions against property owners. Filing nuisance actions has become an effective tool in the fight against gangs, guns and drugs in our community.
The law defines a nuisance, in part, as "any place in or upon which … unlawful sale of any regulated legend drug, narcotic or other controlled substance … prostitution… quarrelling, drunkenness, fighting, or breaches of the peace are carried on or permitted."
The D.A.’s Office (working with local law enforcement) can petition the court with proof of a pattern of criminal activity. The court hearing the proof will order the owner to come to court to answer to the petition and may issue a restraining order against the property owner until the conditions creating the nuisance are abated.
Nuisance actions have been effective in cleaning up neighborhoods and making them safer by closing down known drug houses and businesses that allow criminal activity to be carried on at their establishments.
The District Attorney General’s Organized Crime and Special Operations Unit recently launched a new approach to these problem properties. Partnering with the City of Memphis’ proven Neighborhood Preservation Act program, the unit is spearheading actions against abandoned and neglected properties throughout Memphis. Working in concert with municipal & county code enforcement agencies, Shelby County Health Department and area law enforcement, these new D.A. nuisance actions and City of Memphis neighborhood preservation act claims are filed separately against owners of badly neglected properties that pose environmental and social hazards to their neighborhoods. The first of these coordinated efforts were filed in February 2012 against eleven properties (e.g. the Executive Inn, the Shelby Inn and the Peachtree South Apartments).
It is hoped that these efforts will continue and grow to address other affected areas of Shelby County. Through dual and cooperative litigation, real effect should be brought to bear on these properties and derelict owners will be held responsible.
In many cases in which a residential property is closed, the owner is cooperative and grateful that the D.A.’s Office and law enforcement have stepped in to help remove individuals from the property. In several cases, the owners of residential properties have refurbished the homes and made them livable.
In cases of businesses that are closed under the nuisance law, the owners may agree to take specific, proactive steps to alleviate the nuisance and are allowed to reopen. In some cases, though, businesses have been closed permanently. Assistant D.A. Paul Hagerman is the lead prosecutor in nuisance actions.