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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Neighbors relieved as city shutters nuisance house

Needles and broken glass. Naked people showering outside in broad daylight. A woman getting “beaten by eight people with sticks over stolen peanut butter.”

Those are just a few of the problems neighbors of a West Central house say they’ve put up with over the past three years. But 2332 W. College Ave. has been quiet since Thursday, when Spokane officials boarded up the house after a judge signed an order declaring the property a drug nuisance. The owner, Janette Johnson, 52, was taken to jail after police found a syringe with heroin on the premises.

“It’s a big relief,” said Shane Couch, who lives in a duplex next door. He said he was planning to have friends over and hang out on his porch – something he hasn’t felt safe to do since he moved in two years ago.

Alex Rehberg, who lives above Couch in the duplex, said Johnson’s arrest comes after years of work by neighbors and neighborhood conditions Officer Traci Ponto, who’s encouraged residents to report issues with the house.

“People from that house have broken into this house while I lived here three times,” Rehberg said. “I called the cops to the point where the cops told me to stop calling them.”

Since the beginning of 2012, police have received over 200 calls for service at Johnson’s house, mostly for drug-related activity. The city filed suit against Johnson on March 27, asking the court to order abatement of a public nuisance. According to the suit, Johnson was served with eight notices of chronic nuisance at her house since 2012 and refused to work with officers to clean up the property.

Police spokesman Cpl. Jordan Ferguson said the process to get a nuisance house shut down can be a long one, because officers often don’t have enough evidence to get a warrant or arrest the owner.

“The actual person that owns the house isn’t doing anything overtly illegal that we can make an arrest on,” he said.

“A lot of times, we don’t know what’s going on inside the house” because reports from neighbors are about activities happening outside, he said.

This isn’t the first time police have made some progress shutting down Johnson’s house. Police arrested her in 2007 after a confidential informant bought crack cocaine from her inside the home. She pleaded guilty to three drug-related offenses and was sentenced to 10 months in jail, court records show.

A judge declared the house a nuisance property and ordered it abated for one year on April 30, 2008. Johnson got out of jail and completed her community supervision in 2010. Then, neighbors say, the property went right back to being a problem.

“Nothing has slowed down the drug and criminal activity except boarding it up. As soon as she moved back in, the activity picks up again,” neighbor Laurie Ryan wrote in an affidavit.

The April 1 court order for abatement allows police to seize all the contents of the house and sell them, using the costs to cover expenses associated with keeping the house closed and the city’s court fees. If the sale of items inside the house doesn’t cover those costs, the city can sell the house and keep a portion of the proceeds to recover their costs.

Rehberg was home Thursday when city officials and police officers, including Ponto, came to board up Johnson’s house. He said Ponto went inside to search the house and came out grinning because she’d found drugs inside, allowing her to take Johnson into custody pending the filing of formal charges.

Ponto “cuffed her with the biggest smile on her face. It was great to watch,” he said.