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Judge Closes Pool Hall As Nuisance Illegal Drug Activity Cited, But Others Defend Business

It’s game over for the Madison Avenue Arcade.

Superior Court Judge Michael Donohue ruled the all-night pool hall in downtown Spokane a nuisance last week and ordered it closed. Owner Michael Brown has until March 8 to get out.

Spokane police and some neighbors of the business at 170 S. Madison said good riddance Friday. They have been working together for eight months to build a civil nuisance case against the establishment.

Illegal drug activity in the neighborhood exploded after Brown opened the arcade in May 1995, they claimed.

“They are a focal point for drug sales,” said Rick Albin, a city neighborhood resource officer. “They have been almost virtually from the day they opened.”

Others defended Brown and his business.

They said police are picking on Brown because he’s black and the son of Cassk Thomas, longtime owner of Sam’s Pit - a defunct barbecue joint closed because it was a drug haven.

“It’s really too bad because (Brown’s) a good guy,” said a woman who works at A Taste of Funk, a clothing store nearby. She identified herself only as Beverly. “Everybody knows what this part of town is like. That place is not the center of it.”

Eileen Thomas, who used to be married to Cassk Thomas and considers Brown her stepson, said the owner’s done nothing wrong.

“The police have been harassing him since he opened,” said Eileen Thomas, a former Spokane County freeholder and an activist in Spokane’s African-American community. “He’s just trying to make a living.”

Efforts to reach Brown for comment were unsuccessful.

Police report that drug dealers also are making a living at the establishment. That’s the reason they want the place closed, Albin said.

“It’s certainly not because Mr. Brown’s black,” he said.

Dealers and potential buyers meet inside the arcade to discuss a sale, then go outside on the walk to complete it, Albin said.

The resource officer said he’s collected piles of evidence of such transactions over the past eight months, including tips from informants and video surveillance.

More than a dozen people have been arrested on drug charges near the arcade since last May, police spokesman Dick Cottam wrote in a prepared statement.

The number of calls for police help in the area doubled after Brown opened his doors, Cottam reported.

Also, residents of the nearby Alberta Hotel have complained of drug activity and other crimes, Albin said.

So what, Eileen Thomas said.

Drug sales are common in that part of town and always have been, she said. Other businesses in the neighborhood also attract drug dealers and buyers, she added.

“They don’t shut down the Coach House. They don’t shut down the Dead End Tavern,” she said. “The same thing happens there.”

Harry King, assistant manager at the Alberta Hotel, said he and other neighbors live in fear.

Dealers and other hoods that hang out at Brown’s arcade have threatened him and his tenants, King said.

The hostility has intensified since Donohue’s Feb. 13 ruling, he said.

“It’s a very volatile situation,” King said. “Several people have been threatened with their lives. Last night, people sat up in their rooms with guns.”

Still others said the arcade provides a place for people in the area to socialize and entertain themselves.

“It’s not the kind of place your average WASP would want to hang out,” said Beverly of A Taste of Funk. “But people on the streets out there are mad because it’s closing.”

King scoffed at that.

“It’s the answer to the YMCA yeah, right,” he said. “It’s the son of Sam’s Pit, is what it is.”

Eileen Thomas said Brown may file suit to keep his business open. “The activity that happens there is not Michael’s fault,” she said.

For Albin, the place can’t close soon enough.

“For whatever reason, the judge gave them until March 8,” he said. “We had hoped to get them out of there sooner.”

, DataTimes

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