Around 70 frustrated neighbors gathered at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church downtown on Tuesday night to ask for answers from police and city officials about a Harris Street property that’s generated hundreds of calls to police in the past two years.
The answers were all along the same lines: police, city and legal officials are doing what they can to ameliorate the situation, but it’s going to take time.
The 400 block of Harris Street has been one of the city’s hot spots for calls to the police, Juneau Police Department Chief Ed Mercer said at the meeting. He said that in the past two years, there have been more than 400 calls to police about the area, most of them in regards to parking.
“It’s up there,” JPD Deputy Chief David Campbell said about where Harris Street ranks in number of calls for service. “I don’t know, I haven’t run the numbers to see if it’s No. 1 or No. 2, but the amount of resources that we’re having and the calls we have about Harris Street are pretty high. I’m literally getting emails from people every single day about what’s going on with calls for service.”
There have also been investigations into drug activity and search warrants served on the property, Mercer said, and there was also an incident of shots fired in mid-June in that block. Neighbors have held multiple meetings to talk with public officials and with each other about the activity at the Barrett house.
Dave D’amato, who holds power of attorney for James’ mother Kathleen (meaning he makes legal decisions for her), had the largest crowd-pleasing moment as he offered an update on Kathleen’s legal actions against James.
This spring, Kathleen (whose birth name is Camilla) filed for a partition from James. She co-owns the house, and a partition would allow her to take control of the house, D’amato said. If that happens, D’amato has said multiple times over the past few months, Kathleen intends on selling the house.
D’amato said James has not been cooperating, and that D’amato filed an injunction in court to try and evict the people living at 401 Harris Street.
D’amato said he would like to get Barrett and others out of that house in the next couple weeks, but going through the process might take some time.
“Courts are loath to kick people out on the street and they’re loath to deprive people of their rights,” D’amato said, “but we’ve got what I think is a bona fide emergency and I think we can make that case to the courts.”
This process has been a couple years in the making, D’amato explained, as the Barrett family has slowly closed up assets in the neighborhood including the Bergmann Hotel. The Bergmann is still boarded and locked up, D’amato said, as they search for a buyer for the property. Two other properties, small homes on Fourth Street, were renovated and sold to a local couple.
Tuesday’s meeting, organized by the Uptown Neighborhood Association, involved numerous neighbors expressing frustration at the lack of arrests or noticeable action taken against those at the Harris Street house. In particular, people were surprised that no arrests were made in the June 18 shooting incident where two people fired guns out in the street during a verbal argument.
Mercer and Campbell responded by saying there wasn’t sufficient evidence to make an arrest. They said multiple times that there’s an important difference between knowing that someone committed a crime and being able to prove in court that they committed the crime.
Along these lines, they encouraged people to continue to report crimes as quickly as they can and to install cameras at their homes. Catching a crime on camera, they said, makes prosecuting a crime very easy.
City and Borough of Juneau Assistant Municipal Attorney Robert Palmer was at the meeting as well, and mentioned one more way people can help. If someone witnesses a crime, he said, it helps greatly if that person is willing to testify in court to seeing that crime.
“I sense that there is a significant energy and inertia in this group that many of you would be willing to do that, and that’s huge,” Palmer said.
Palmer and Mayor Ken Koelsch also said the city is working on a chronic nuisance ordinance so the police are able to cite property owners for causing a long-term public nuisance. Defining a public nuisance, Palmer said, is a difficult task and often can only be decided by a jury in trial.
Anchorage has a chronic nuisance ordinance, Palmer said, and he’s working on how to make a similar ordinance work for Juneau.
“I think it’s going to be one tool in the toolbox,” Palmer said. “I don’t think it’s going to be the ultimate solution for everything, because it may just displace the problem temporarily and it’ll get relocated somewhere else.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.