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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

City takes control of drug house in West Central after neighbors complain

UPDATED: Wed., March 6, 2019

Officer Traci Ponto walks out from a home officers vacated at 2302 W. College Avenue on Monday, March 4, 2019, in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Officer Traci Ponto walks out from a home officers vacated at 2302 W. College Avenue on Monday, March 4, 2019, in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
By Jonathan Glover and Will Campbell The Spokesman-Review

City officials took control of a notorious drug house in West Central on Monday morning after frightened and frustrated neighbors called Spokane police to the home about 50 times in the past year.

The family didn’t fight the city’s move on the house at 2302 W. College Ave.

James Daniel Kelly held his Maine coon cat named Tucker in his arms as he helped his mother, Gwendaleann Ragland, walk up the snow- and ice-covered steps of what had been their home.

“There’s a particular life that’s led here,” Kelly said. “If you partake in that, it’s difficult to get out of it.”

The city filed a lawsuit in February detailing the police calls and numerous complaints from neighbors who reported seeing clear signs of drug use at the property. Some were afraid to even take the trash out without carrying a pocketknife.

“When I get out of my car I feel like I am walking into a trap, and that someone is going to jump me,” one neighbor is quoted saying in the city lawsuit. “I want to feel safe pulling into my own home again.”

Ragland had an opportunity to respond to the complaint within two weeks, which would have opened up an abatement agreement with the city, but Kelly said he and his mother finally had enough.

“I got sucked into the daily activities that are down here,” he said. “I know a geographical change will work for me.”

Spokane Assistant City Attorney Matt Folsom said there have been six chronic nuisance cases like Ragland’s in the past year that have reached the point of a lawsuit, but three times that many are resolved before the courts get involved.

“Most cases we resolve by cooperating with the owners,” he said.

Traci Ponto, a neighborhood resource officer in West Central for about 10 years, said she’d like to see more resource officers like herself. A police head count shows there are fewer than 15, even though there are 30 neighborhood councils.

“We have too many of these properties,” said Folsom. “It’s more than we can deal with.”

For about 10 years, Ponto has bridged the gap between the Spokane Police Department and the West Central neighborhood as the Neighborhood Resource Officer. Her job entails following up with homeowners and resolving issues, something that patrol officers don’t have time to do, she said.

She said the house on College Avenue is one of the worst cases of nuisance properties she’s seen. She said the house became an issue about two years ago when one of Ragland’s sons moved in and brought an unsavory crowd with him.

“The drug activity was ramping up,” she said. “We were seeing some overdoses, high-profile criminals.”

In December, Ponto hosted a meeting with neighbors to hear about their concerns.

And last Wednesday, while police were trying to find a stabbing suspect in the house, she entered the home for one of the last times before it was taken. She said she could clearly see meth pipes and syringes lying around.

Most nuisance houses don’t get to the point of a lawsuit. The process of resolving drug houses like Ragland’s involves talking to neighbors and setting up abatement agreements.

But Ragland didn’t respond to notices that would have scheduled a meeting with Ponto, leading to a $536 fine. Ragland instead agreed to be out of the house on Monday.

If a nuisance property owner doesn’t respond at all, the fine can total $1,072.

But Ponto said she’ll dismiss Ragland’s ticket because she recently became responsive.

“We’ll dismiss these tickets all day long if we get what we want,” she said.

Ragland bought the property in 2004 for $45,000, according to county property records. She owes $3,663.80 in back taxes on the property.

Kelly, who helped his mother move all of her belongings and store them in a large U-Haul truck parked a few houses down, said he’s lived in or around West Central for most of his life.

Now that the home is no longer an option, he said he’s somewhat glad to finally get him and his mother out of the neighborhood.

“We have plans,” he said. “We’re going to do a bit of traveling, actually. And get my mother and myself away from the environment around here.”

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