There are more empty lots than homes on Merry Street, a short stretch from Resha’s Bi-Rite Market on 25th Avenue North to an abrupt dead end just before a set of railroad tracks. Yet the street attracted a stream of foot and vehicle traffic at all hours of the day, and especially in the first few hours of the morning.
That traffic was usually destined for only one of the half-dozen houses on the street, the last on the left, 2326 Merry St. — known as the go-to, in-and-out stop for those looking to score crack cocaine.
Last week, 2326 Merry sat quieter than neighbors had witnessed in years. The storm door had been removed from the front padlocked entrance, which along with the other windows and doors was boarded up. Attached to the plywood on the front door was a judge’s order placing a temporary injunction on the property, deeming it a public nuisance and legally prohibiting anyone from entering. To the right of that, on a boarded-up window that used to overlook a porch, was a bright green poster board advertising the most recent narcotics search warrant served by the Metro Nashville Police Department.
The 2326 Merry St. home has a long history with police. Its current stasis is the indirect result of a renewed effort this year by a community that collectively decided it had had enough of the criminal activity. So on April 27, Metro police’s Swat Team executed a search warrant on the drug house, and the temporary injunction was placed on the property.
Now that the rightful owner of 2326 Merry St., 86-year-old Lucille Carter, who — strangely — was listed as deceased in the public-nuisance petition (based on a driver’s license check), has been found, the fate of the Merry Street house will be sorted out by her attorney, the district attorney’s office and Criminal Court Judge Cheryl Blackburn at a hearing set for next week.
It was around 4 p.m. one day last summer when District 21 Councilwoman Edith Taylor Langster — herself a former police officer — drove through the area surrounding Merry Street toward Clifton Avenue on her way to a council-related meeting. Langster took that particular route on that day because she knew was going to meet with some of the police brass, and she wanted to see if things were still the same in the area.
When Langster stopped her car to let another car pass, a man walked up, knocked on her window and said, I can get you what you want — what do you need?
In the past, the problem for neighbors, local clergy, police and city leaders was that the drug activity just never seemed to go away no matter what action they took. Following police operations in and around the house, the traffic would start up again “within 10 minutes after the last police car leaves the area” — as one letter to North Precinct Commander Anthony Carter put it.
In his affidavit supporting the complaint filed last month, Officer Tim Szymanski compiled a history of anonymous Crime Stoppers complaints reported by neighbors dating from July 2006 through last May stating that occupants of the home were “at it again,” apparently selling drugs to the streams of people circulating on the dead end street.
Szymanski described at least three other search warrants executed at the house in March and August 2009, as well as January 2010. Each time police reported finding drugs and drug paraphernalia.
Around the first of this year, according to Szymanski, neighbors pushed for a renewed effort to rid Merry Street of the drug house.
“The neighbors were just plain tired. They said, ‘Enough is enough,’ and they absolutely wanted something done,” Langster said.
To gain fresh evidence and affirm the suspicions of the continuing trade on Merry Street, the police department’s Specialized Investigations Division conducted several undercover drug buys at the house, with Matthew Carter, 57, allegedly involved directly in six of seven of those transactions. Those investigations led to the issuance of another search warrant.
During the April 27 raid, police found a small amount of cocaine along with drug paraphernalia, which is consistent with a log of anonymous complaints, previous police busts and the undercover drug buys made in the previous weeks. Police arrested nine people in the raid and issued a state citation to another.
That same evening, police padlocked and boarded up 2326 Merry St. pending a court hearing. Matthew Carter — listed in the petition for the injunction as a resident of the home and the main target of the drug investigation — was not in the house at the time, however, and remained at large as of Thursday.
Matthew Carter should have already been serving a six-year prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to drug charges last May. But he was a no-show when the time came for him to report to jail and begin serving his sentence.
The Merry Street case isn’t the first time prosecutors have used an injunction on an alleged crack house, according to Assistant District Attorney John Zimmermann, but such a move isn’t common, either.
In February 1997, authorities imposed an injunction on a property on 16th Avenue North rented by Sean McQuiddy, who Zimmermann said was sent to prison for operating a retail cocaine shop out of the property.
As for injunctions used to temporarily or permanently shut down properties deemed public nuisances, they’re often options of last resort used on number-running businesses (as they were in the late ’80s and ’90s) or more recently on motels harboring drugs and prostitutes.
It’s a rare case that calls for such a last resort in a private residence. Usually, arresting someone for selling drugs out of a residence stops the conduct, Zimmermann said.
“This was a unique kind of residence in the sense that it didn’t appear anybody was necessarily living there as much as they were using it as a reputed place where that’s where you can go get the dope,” he said. “Drive up, drive out.”
The district attorney’s office initially believed based on a driver’s license check that owner Lucille Carter was dead and Matthew Carter, her son, was the apparent heir to the property, which has been in the family some 100 years. It was Lucille Carter, not Matthew, who sat near the back of Judge Blackburn’s courtroom Wednesday morning and listened as her attorney, Fikisha L. Swader, and Zimmermann agreed to continue the hearing for two weeks.
Outside Blackburn’s courtroom last Wednesday morning, Lucille Carter declined to comment. Swader, whom the family retained hours before the hearing, said the matter was a sensitive one and so far the family had yet to learn of the full allegations that had been under seal. Swader said Lucille Carter and the family wanted to review those allegations and do “whatever’s best for the community.”
Whatever’s best could be a razing of the home, which Szymanski said was all but a “biohazard” based on what he believed had gone on there in the past.