By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The question is who. Punch Bozo? Punch the cops? The city attorney? The mayor? Sam Jamal-Eddine?
The city of Dallas says Jamal-Eddine is the proper punchee. He's a South Dallas landlord whom the city is suing and generally trying to put out of business for failing to provide Bozo with more suitable quarters. Bozo, a street drug dealer in old South Dallas, chose Jamal-Eddine's apartment building near Metropolitan and South Central Expressway as his HQ of preference.
Bozo is a street name, apparently a reference to his great size, unusually large feet and bushy Afro. I am not using his proper name here, because I was unable to track him down in order to ask him his version.
According to testimony Jamal-Eddine gave at a legislative hearing in Austin last month, Bozo started smashing into apartments two months ago in Jamal-Eddine's 28-unit, two-story building, usually by breaking through front doors.
Some units were empty. Some were occupied. As far as Bozo was concerned, it was all good.
"He is known to everybody around that area," Jamal-Eddine told the Texas House of Representatives Civil Practices Committee. "He could fight with anybody, beat anybody and get them. He jumps from one apartment to another.
"He broke into any apartment, and he would go inside, and the tenant cannot say nothing, because they are afraid of him. He broke inside, and he sells drugs inside that apartment."
Jamal-Eddine told me last week he paid $418,000 for the 35-year-old building almost three years ago. Because of the city's lawsuits against him, he is about to lose the building in foreclosure. A civil engineer by training, Jamal-Eddine was born in Lebanon and is a U.S. citizen.
The Bozo story was one of several he related to the committee in which he begged Dallas police to come enforce the law at his complex and they refused.
"I start chasing him for two months, calling 911," Jamal-Eddine told the committee. "'Here Bozo! Come and get him.' No response. As usual. I don't know what to do."
Jamal-Eddine told the committee the typical response time he got by calling 911 was two months. He'd learned the only way to get a patrol car faster than that was by telling the 911 operator that World War III was about to break out on his property.
"One time I came early morning, 5:30, and I find him inside. I call the police, 911. 'Come on over right now. Somebody's going to kill somebody.'"
When the police came, Jamal-Eddine told them: "Here Bozo, inside. Come and get him." He said the police were familiar with Bozo. They went to the door of the apartment and said, "Hey, Bozo, come on out."
Bozo appeared. Jamal-Eddine said Bozo told him in front of the cops, "'Yes, Sam, I pay you to rent this apartment. I already paid the rent.'"
To Jamal-Eddine's chagrin, the police immediately took Bozo's side without asking a single question of him. "They told me to go through the civil procedure. 'Go evict him.'"
At this point, when Jamal-Eddine was telling his story to the legislative committee in Austin a month ago, he was interrupted by state Representative Joe Nixon, a Houston Republican and chairman of the committee. Nixon, speaking in the tone of one who could not believe his own ears, recapped:
"So Bozo hadn't signed the lease," Nixon said. "Didn't pay any rent. He broke into an apartment. You called them, said, 'Come get him.' They went and got him. And Bozo says, 'I've paid the rent.' And the police said, 'OK, well, he's paid the rent.'"
Jamal-Eddine said, "I asked the police, 'Did you ask him about the receipt, if he has a receipt, if he has a contract?'"
"And what was the officer's response?" Nixon asked.
Jamal-Eddine said police told him, "'No. Go and evict him. Sam, this is a civil matter.' And they left.
"They left me with Bozo."
At this point, there was laughter in the hearing room. I wasn't there. I watched this hearing on videotape. But it is my clear impression from watching the tape that no one was laughing at Sam Jamal-Eddine. What I heard was disgusted, disbelieving, derisive laughter aimed right at Dallas City Hall.
This committee of the House of Representatives had already heard hours of testimony telling the other side of the Bozo story--the fact that after Dallas police repeatedly refuse to show up, refuse to enforce the law when they do show up, walk away when tenants and hotel guests are caught red-handed with caches of illegal drugs, the "Safe Team" comes to call. And that is when a landlord or hotel operator's life and business really go to hell in a handbasket.
Dallas City Hall was the prime target of the House hearings last month and of hearings going on this week in the Senate. The accusation is that the city has abused a law passed two years ago that was supposed to help cities shut down crackhouses and hot-sheet motels.