ANC Rep Teri Janine Quinn emails me the following letter in partial response to yesterday’s post “We have all noticed Bloomingdale has been charged with a new tense and violent energy”:
I am happy to be able to provide a positive update on this matter. Let me begin with some background information regarding this issue. Over the last year I have worked relentlessly with the 5th District Police Commander Dierdre Porter, MPD officers and DCRA to address the problems stemming from Aida’s Electronics, located at 209 Florida Avenue, NW. The store has been openly selling synthetic marijuana for over a year. As described by MPD officers, synthetic drugs may produce results similar to PCP. Last January, a store employee was shot in the chest in the store. To my knowledge no arrests were made in that case. In the southwest section of Bloomingdale and the northwest section of Bates, we have become accustomed to seeing people from all over the city strung out in front of our homes and on our front steps, sometimes with children (even babies) in tow. Some neighbors, including seniors, have been threatened directly by loiterers on their property and had plants ripped out of their front yards after confrontations with loiterers.
I have routinely reported on this issue to both the Bloomingdale Civic Association and the Bates Area Civic Association (the south side of that stretch of Florida Avenue is in Bates). I have addressed the issue directly with Councilmember McDuffie and he has reached out directly to Commander Porter regarding the matter. Commander Porter and I have been in near constant contact regarding the store. Additional officers were assigned to patrol the area near the store and the police raided the store at least twice. That helped to deter some of the bad behavior that stemmed from the store but it did not resolve the problem.
MPD faced a variety of challenges policing this issue. While the sale of synthetic marijuana is illegal, the laws prohibiting such sales set forth the specific chemical makeup of the prohibited drugs. The drug makers frequently adjust the chemical design of the drugs to stay a step ahead of the law. Moreover, while our officers are well equipped to address reports of the sale and use of traditional drugs, they lack the ability to test for the chemical makeup of synthetic products. Without proof of the chemical makeup of the drug, the officers lack probable cause to make an arrest related to the sale or use of synthetic marijuana. One officer reported to me even though he observed as many as 25 people purchase synthetic drugs from the store in one hour, he could not make an arrest! Unfortunately, it is not feasible from a resource standpoint for officers to patrol that block nonstop.
But, there is good news to report! Last month attorney Argatonia Weatherington (from the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia) reached out to me — at Commander Porter’s urging — to assist her in building support for a civil lawsuit against the store that would seek to close the store permanently as a nuisance property. I requested community support for the case quietly in order to preserve the integrity of the case prior to filing. Many residents, especially those who were here through the crack epidemic, would not submit an affidavit or testify for fear of retaliation. That said, I was successful in identifying a few neighbors who were willing to submit affidavits attesting to the community impact of the synthetic marijuana sales. Last week, I attended a hearing in the matter to testify as to the community impact. During a hearing break, the owner of the business agreed to enter a settlement agreement. This week I confirmed with the AG’s office that the settlement agreement has been finalized. Here’s a brief summary of the settlement agreement terms:
• The owner must cancel his retail business licenses.
• The owner has 30 days to wrap up business. If he is caught selling synthetic marijuana during this time he will face criminal contempt charges. Thankfully, it seems like there may already be progress. I saw men removing a lot of electronics from the store yesterday and for at least the last two days the store has not been opened and has had a “Closed” sign on the door.
• For six months following the 30 day wrap-up period, the store will be closed completely.
• For six months after that six-month period, the business will be allowed to reopen with no retail sales of any nature permitted (i.e., the business will only be allowed to repair electronics). At the end of this period the store will be allowed to discuss the possibility of resuming retail sales.
The AG’s Office has successfully filed similar lawsuits but this was the first such case in the District of Columbia involving synthetic marijuana. I would like to publicly thank Attorney Weatherington for taking on this case.. I would also like to thank Commander Porter and the 5D officers and detectives for their support and for entertaining my numerous complaints and requests for assistance. During a time when police officers are under a watchful eye nationwide, I am very pleased to say the officers who worked on this matter served our community well. Also, thank you Councilmember McDuffie for your support and my fellow Commissioners Wanda Foster and Austin Pearl and the Bloomingdale Civic Association Executive Board for your commitment to helping us address this issue. Finally, thank you to the residents and business owners who stayed on top of this issue by bringing specific incidents to my attention and joining me in reporting the issues to MPD and Councilmember McDuffie. This has been one of the most frustrating and biggest challenges I have faced as resident (I live VERY close to the business) and as a community representative. I am thankful that we were able to reach a resolution without further violence.
Footnote: CNN ran a story on synthetic drugs Tuesday. This helps to provide context. If you don’t understand the potential damage synthetic drugs can cause you might not understand what a big deal it is to get this store shut down.
Teri Janine Quinn
Vice Chair, ANC 5E
Single Member District 5E06″