The ruination of a home

Feb. 15, 2014 @ 07:25 AM

f you stand at the northernmost end of Merritt Mill Road at its juncture with West Franklin Street, you will see a street that goes in a southwest direction.  This is Brewer Lane -- which leads to Hargrave and Eugene streets.

This area is an ideal location.  People can go up Brewer Lane a short distance to downtown Chapel Hill and Carrboro.  They can also go a short distance to Lincoln Center on the other side.

Historically, the neighborhood has been friendly and welcoming.

Wesley Street is a short street that connects Hargrave and Eugene streets.  James Henry Atwater, now 63, and his brother, Roy Larue Atwater, 64, own a home at 105 Wesley St.  Eddie Green Atwater, 60, lived there but has moved out.

Since 2007 there have many complaints about the home.  This includes numerous assaults,  possession of firearms by a felon, assault on a female, communicating threats, domestic dispute, attempted robbery, injury to property, drug offenses and animal cruelty.

James Henry Atwater  has been convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon, assault on a female, domestic disturbance and discharging a firearm in the city limits.  He is being held in the Orange county jail with multiple drug charges and an assault case.   The bond is $600,000.

Eddie Green Atwater has had multiple convictions.  This includes driving while impaired in 1985, larceny, drug offense and resisting arrest in l993 and seven offenses from 2003 to 2007, resulting in his imprisonment in October, 2007 on a sentence of one year and 10 months.  He also has been charged with weapon and assault charges.

Roy Larue Atwater was convicted of a drug offense in 1999.

Since 2007, the Carrboro police have been called to the home more than 50 times. Nearly half of the charges occurred last year. 

The Carrboro police consider the home a dangerous public menace and threat to public safety.  Therefore, they are considering the possibility of asking the town to begin court proceedings to seize the property.   If they proceed, they would use the nuisance abatement statute.

One reason they are considering this statute is that there is a day care center directly across the street: The Community School for People under Six.

Back in December of 2013, there was a shooting at the home.  It was alleged that a man broke into the home -- and was killed.  Another person was wounded.   Unlawful activities have continued since that death.

Captain Chris Atack does not recall the nuisance abatement statute being used in Carrboro.   However, it has been used in Orange County. 

In 2010, the High Point police seized three homes that way. The homes were involved in serious criminal activity for more than five years.   During that time, officers had responded to 319 calls between the three houses.

For two years the police tried to work with the owner of the properties, but got no cooperation. In 2009 the department had gathered enough evidence to file a nuisance abatement case.  The attempt to seize the properties was successful, and the homes were conveyed to the Guilford County school system, as required by law.

The process of seizing property to abate a nuisance is spelled out in G.S. 160A-193. It provides that a city shall have authority to summarily remove, abate, or remedy anything that is dangerous or prejudicial to the public health or safety of the public.  The statute may be interpreted to allow a town to cause a nuisance to be removed in situations that are not routine. 

The procedure to seek help from the courts is difficult, but Carrboro could use the paperwork of other cities, such as High Point, and follow a similar procedure.

In the meantime, as long as criminal activity continues at 105 Wesley Street, it is casting a pall over the Hargrave - Eugene Streets neighborhood.  In fact, it casts a pall over eastern Carrboro and western Chapel Hill.

Stanley Peele is a retired judge.