Drug houses boarded up



The prosecutor will suggest landlords or property owners clean up such properties.
By D.A. WILKINSON
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
EAST LIVERPOOL -- Instead of kicking down doors in the fight against drugs, authorities are boarding them up.
After years of investigations, undercover buys and drug raids, authorities have added a new method -- plywood and screws -- to their efforts.
On Jan. 3, officials had a house at 414 Ogden St. declared a nuisance and boarded it up.
The home belongs to Robert Conkle, a former city water superintendent. He previously had been charged with felony and misdemeanor drug charges.
Assistant Columbiana County Prosecutors John Gamble and Ryan Weikart prepared the lengthy complaint that listed about 40 incidents that occurred either at or near the house.
The law is a civil action, not a criminal complaint. County Prosecutor Robert Herron said the old state law was difficult for even attorneys to understand. The new version was approved by the Legislature in 1999.
"It distinguishes a drug house from other forms of nuisances," Gamble said. "But it doesn't have to establish it is in fact a drug house."
While Conkle owns the house and is the defendant in the civil action, Gamble said, "In reality it is an action against the property, and whether this property is a nuisance."
House sealed up
County Common Pleas Court Judge C. Ashley Pike approved a temporary restraining order under the law at the request of Herron. Police then went to the hardware store for material and sealed the house.
People who were staying at the house were allowed to gather their belongings, and in Conkle's case, his pets.
The effect is the same as other nuisance laws. It removes the problem to end the nuisance to restore the neighborhood.
The judge will ultimately decide whether the house can be closed for up to a year.
"This is not isolated to the city of East Liverpool. Properties in all portions of the county are going to get our attention," Gamble said.
Herron has said he will suggest landlords or property owners clean up such properties. The county may have about 30 such sites, mostly in the cities.
"Landlords know it's going on," Gamble said.
People can call the prosecutor's office or drug task force to leave anonymous tips. The tips will be recorded and used as part of efforts to close drug houses.
One or two complaints may not be enough to get a response, just as complaints about worn or abandoned buildings may not bring an immediate response.
"We have at our disposal a very powerful tool and don't want to use it recklessly," Gamble said.
wilkinson@vindy.com

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