The sprawling Casa Verde apartment complex doesn't look like anything much. It's a weathered collection of green buildings behind a long black fence that runs along a cracked street. Located on Fair Oaks, not far from Greenville and Park, it's tucked behind Today's Discount Food Mart, a taqueria and a beauty supply store.
At midday Friday, a mother with long brown hair in a loose bun was pushing her fussing child in a yellow stroller along the black asphalt of the parking lot. The mailman was slotting envelopes in the shade of one of the buildings as two kids ran by with a basketball. A lanky teenager in red basketball shorts stood in a doorway, wilting slightly sideways from the heat. It's on this slight battleground that the City Attorney's Office is waging a war.
Behind a white door in Casa Verde's main office, Asia Brazil puffed her cheeks out in frustration and shook her head. She's the complex's supervisor, a woman in her late 30s with glossy black curls and eyeliner that flared out into thick wings at the corners. She was frowning at her computer, scrolling through the details of a lawsuit the city has filed against Casa Verde's owners, a company called CCC&R Tres Arboles, LLC. "This is nothing new," Brazil said, with some heat, about the complaint that follows.
According to Brazil, the city is penalizing Casa Verde for being located in a troubled neighborhood. She said the complex's management has tried its best to keep that trouble off the property by calling 911, filing police reports, hiring off-duty police as security guards. But, she said, the city continues to unfairly criticize the apartment complex for not doing enough to root out crime.
Earlier this month, the city filed a suit pursuing an injunction against the owners of Casa Verde, alleging that the landlord "knowingly tolerates habitual criminal activity on the property." Thecity also wants to appoint a receiver to take control of the property and prohibit all current employees from being within 500 feet of Casa Verde.
"We don't knowingly tolerate anything, " Brazil said, exasperated, tapping her nails against the keyboard.
Casa Verde was originally labeled as a problem area under the SAFE program (the acronym stands for Support Abatement Forfeiture and Enforcement), which Schutze has criticized in the past for being selectively enforced, and for putting the crime-fighting onus on property owners instead of police officers.
In February 2011, Casa Verde's landlords agreed to a Nuisance Abatement plan with the city, agreeing to install better lighting, add security guards and do more comprehensive background checks on prospective tenants. But Andrew Gilbert, the assistant city attorney who filed the injunction against Casa Verde's landlords, tells Unfair Park the plan Casa Verde agreed to follow just isn't working.
"The City has been monitoring the number of offenses at the Casa Verde Apartments and also the owner's compliance with the Nuisance Abatement Plan," he wrote in an email. "Since the time that the owner signed the Nuisance Abatement Plan, there were at least ten additional serious offenses committed at those apartments." That's evidence, he said, that the property owners were knowingly allowing illegal activity to continue.
"The City refuses to turn a blind eye to the existence of an on-going common nuisance," he added.
The injunction states that between June 2010 and June 2011, there have been 13 documented cases of drug-dealing, one robbery, three aggravated assaults, one murder and one case of unlawful gun possession at Casa Verde. It also includes an attached statement from a police officer who patrols the area, Officer Karen Lewis, who says "this Property continues to be habitually used for drug-related activity, robbery, aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault, and unlawfully carrying a weapon. Furthermore, the Property has a reputation as a place where person go to purchase illegal substances."
Brazil is "not denying at all" that there have been incidents at Casa Verde, she said. "No apartment complex is totally safe or crime-proof." The last serious incident she could think of was a fight outside The Lofts, the apartment complex next door. "They ran over here," she said emphatically. "And our officers were the ones who called the city police."
But she said Casa Verde's management was told in February that it had a year to show improvement. To that end, she said they've installed improved lighting on the property, limited access gates to make it harder for people to come and go without the guards knowing and are planning on putting up a guard shack at the main entrance. They've also hired bilingual staff in the office, she said, "to help accommodate some of the neighborhood needs."
"We have a time frame, and we're sticking to it," she said.
For the past year, Brazil said, the landlord has paid off-duty police officers to provide both day- and night-shift security patrols.
Brazil didn't want to name her landlord or disclose the other properties he owns, but insisted that Tres Arboles isn't encouraging or abetting crime and that the other buildings the company owns in the city are "all doing fine."
"We're very proactive in what we do," she said. "The owner is very active and is out on the property two or three times a month. The city has to have people to pick on. It's easier to do multifamily apartment complexes as opposed to condos."
Ultimately, Brazil argued that what's going on at Casa Verde is about the nature of the neighborhood where it's located, not negligence or indifference on the part of the owner.
"Apartment complexes are not the only place where crime happens," she said, "This area is crime-ridden. But we'll continue to do what needs to be done. "Dallas Injunction Petition Of CCC&R Tres Arboles