City of Dallas community prosecutors are making good on pledges to pursue a nuisance abatement lawsuit against problematic property at the southwest corner of Forest Lane and Audelia.
The City, on March 3, filed for a temporary and permanent injunction against Bent Creek Shopping Center and owner Rooha Realty, Inc. and its registered agent Mohammed Hanif Khanani, citing that since he purchased the property in 2015, there have been 66 drug-related arrests, seven aggravated assaults, seven arrests for unlawfully carrying a weapon, two for the reckless discharge of a firearm and two robberies. (That is not to say the property was crime free before 2015; it was problematic enough for us to write a story about the area in 2009 and long before that, even).
“As early as April 2015, defendant Rooha was notified by the Dallas Police Department that the property was being used for criminal activity,” according to the suit.
That January, the owner of EZ Mart and the rest of the strip started blasting classical music as part of a police, merchant and landowner collaboration to combat crime. Pumping classical music into public venues is a tactic that has been used by cities all over the world to deter loitering, said then-Northeast commander Deputy Chief Andrew Acord, who confirmed at the time that Bent Tree owners were using classical music as a tool to reduce issues related to loitering, drug dealing and prostitution.
After the drive-by shooting of a teenager in July 2015, the Dallas Police Department placed the property in its S.A.F.E. program, Acord explained, a police program that, officially, “forges vested partnerships with cooperative property owners to combat common and public nuisances.”
“It’s where we hold property owners’ feet to the fire to ensure they are doing everything in their power to discourage crime,” Acord told us at the time.
But it did not have a satisfactory impact.
At the meeting last month, scheduled on the heels of yet another outbreak of violence at the center, city attorney Kristen Kramer said the EZ Mart anchoring the property was at the center of a TABC protest that her department recently initiated. The protest is a multi-step process that, based on TABC code, can prevent the renewal of a license to sell alcohol. The inability to sell alcohol would not stop the illegalities, she and police and city officials acknowledged, but it might motivate the owner to take further measures to stop loitering that nurtures the dealing and violence, she said.
At the same time, Kramer announced her department’s intention to file the lawsuit against Rooha Realty and Khanani.
If the court finds for the City in its temporary injunction request, the property owner would be required to pay a bond of between $5,000 and $10,000 ensuring that it would not “knowingly maintain a common nuisance on the property,” according to the lawsuit.
Violations could then mean the City of Dallas would be allowed to cut off utility services at the property.
A permanent injunction could force the entire shopping center to close for one year from the date of said judgment. Several other businesses including a dry cleaners, a nail salon, a dollar store and a shoe store occupy the property.
At the February meeting police and neighbors expressed little sympathy for any businesses that might be forced to close. One officer told the group that the owner has been given many chances to make improvements; he has checked to see if 911 calls have come in from the address to report drug deals or illegal behavior — they don’t, he says. If business owners and employees aren’t reporting drug deals when they see it happening, they are enabling the crime to continue.
One patron told NBC 5 he did not think the landlord should be blamed for the crime, while the station reports that tenants declined to go on record.
The city attorneys’ actions are small pieces of an entire “toolbox” of items northeast leaders are throwing at crime issues at the intersection as well as the surrounding area, city officials have said — those efforts include a boxing gym project and ALL IN D10 district accountability plan, the formation of police task forces and a proposed northern Lake Highlands Public Improvement District.
(The report on NBC 5 includes a full copy of the lawsuit).