The Apartment Building from Hell

Pay a visit to Overtown's New Jack complex, where drug dealers rule, kids play in sewage, and multimillionaire owner Garth Reeves makes excuses

Improving their quality of life wasn't necessarily a priority for all tenants. Some had been sheltering the dealers and robbers; some didn't want to risk angering the men who had power of life and death over them. "You can't do this by yourself," Regina remembers thinking. "I said [to the other women], 'Either you stand with me or leave.'" Two mothers moved out.

In September 1998 Albury formally brought Crispus Attucks to the attention of the city's Nuisance Abatement Board. The residents referred to the process as going to "court," and in practice the five-member board (appointed by the Miami City Commission) is a quasi-judicial body and hearings are much like trials.

At first Albury wasn't asking the board to shut down the property, only to order Reeves to fix the code violations cited by city inspectors. Reeves was summoned to city hall to respond. He didn't come in person; Cooper spoke on his behalf. Several tenants also attended, and the board called Regina as a witness.

Miami Police Lt. Bobbie Meeks says his officers risked their lives every time they went to New Jack
Miami Police Lt. Bobbie Meeks says his officers risked their lives every time they went to New Jack
Kalim (foreground) is fearless and fascinated by guns, which worries his mother Tanya (background) and younger siblings
Kalim (foreground) is fearless and fascinated by guns, which worries his mother Tanya (background) and younger siblings

At the first hearing the NAB ordered Cooper to complete several repairs, notably the exterior lights and the back gate that needed only an extrastrong lock to keep out the criminals and crackheads. During a series of NAB hearings over the next several months, Cooper claimed that the improvements had been made. City inspectors, however, brought photographs and witnesses to the hearings to argue that the property remained a blight on an already blighted neighborhood. (Cooper could not be located for comment.)

Police testified that they feared entering the building, especially in the pitch darkness of night. Repeated reverse stings, each resulting in some 20 to 30 arrests, did little to slow the drug trafficking. "It was so bad and so flagrant," recalls NET commander Lt. Bobbie J. Meeks, "that officers could be there effecting an arrest and a guy would come up and try to buy drugs from [the undercover officers]. That's how bad it was. Some of the residents were harboring criminals in their apartments. [Criminals] would do a robbery somewhere and then run into the building and hide in one of the apartments."

Not only hide themselves, but hide the goods. "I tell you, that was like a nightmare anytime they broke in anywhere," Regina says wearily. "They'd take over one of the empty apartments and the dope dealers would let 'em sell [the stolen goods] out of there."

"A lot of the tenants are caught in the middle," Ofcr. Allen Davis explained at one NAB hearing. "They have choices, but these guys are actually coming [into their apartments] and forcing their will on them. By far this is the worst property we have. In my personal opinion this one building provides 80 percent of the heroin in Overtown."

In late 1998 Reeves offered a vacant apartment for use as a police ministation, but Meeks didn't have the manpower to operate a separate office. At one point property manager Cooper allowed the police to conduct a long-term sting operation out of an empty apartment. The ensuing multiple arrests served only to emphasize the danger and lawlessness of the place. During the April 1999 hearing at which the NAB voted to shut down the property, Cooper lashed out at police. He accused them of deceiving him and of not doing enough to stop the criminal activity. "The very results were used against us for cooperating," intoned Cooper, his elaborate gray suit with its wide lapels and pocket handkerchief contrasting with the skirts, blouses, and sandals of the tenants. "To suddenly now recognize something is wrong after we cooperated and complied is not only unfair but highly disingenuous."

Regina's payback for cooperating -- for telling the NAB exactly what was going on -- was worse. "Now I was public enemy number-one," she says. "Since I been to court [NAB] I've had flat tires, I've had people come up and threaten me. I've had people offer me money. Oh, yes. 'Miss Regina, we could pay you $200 a week. Just let us do our business.' Some dealers were making $1000 a day. How do you think they feel about Miss Regina? The longevity of their business depends on the longevity of that building.

"I didn't realize," she continues, "public hearings were on TV until I got home from a hearing and everybody was telling me they saw me speaking, and I thought, Oh my God, I can't let 'em know what I'm saying. If I had had my way, I don't think I would have done it. I'm a chicken. I have to believe God prepared me for this."

Still Regina felt threatened enough to seek out one of the neighborhood kids who deals in stolen guns. He knew her, so he "leased" her a .44-caliber pistol for the modest sum of $25, with the understanding she'd eventually return it so he could sell it for many times that amount. After she and Bethany moved to their new quarters on NW 46th Street, she returned the gun.

Until two weeks ago Latosha lived on the first floor just beneath a vacant apartment that had been a crack dealership. In a board that was nailed over one window, someone had cut a hole just large enough to pass through money and crack. That apartment had caught fire six months earlier and the edges of the door and boarded-up windows were blackened.

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