Police, DA mull safety issues at Carnegie Towers

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The police sweep resulting in more than 20 arrests -- most of them drug related -- at Carnegie Towers last Thursday may provide some temporary relief, according to Carnegie police chief Jeffrey Harbin.

But Chief Harbin said he was under no illusion that the raid would permanently ease crime in the building. Typically, 14 percent to 16 percent of Carnegie's police calls involve Carnegie Towers, as does 22 percent to 25 percent of the town's annual arrest totals.

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It was Chief Harbin who contacted Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. in early 2008 about the possibility of declaring Carnegie Towers a nuisance.

Mr. Zappala then learned from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides rent subsidies to all but three of the 10-story building's 176 apartments, that it was in foreclosure and would be put up for sale.

What followed was a series of fire and building inspections, as well as visits from security experts that led to the development of bid documents requiring $5.2 million in improvements be made as part of the sale.

At a news conference following the arrests, Mr. Zappala was asked whether the building could be shut down.

Though that appears unlikely, he hopes the mandated security improvements, such as increased video and round-the-clock security presence, could make a difference.

He said his office this week would contact the prospective owner because the man owns a number of commercial properties, including one motel on Banksville Road that has seen police intervention 79 times in recent years because of drugs, prostitution and gambling.

However, he added, "I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt that he's going to do the right thing."

But he also said the building's use should be changed if problems cannot be corrected with increased security. Noting mixed-tenant base housing has not worked in Western Pennsylvania, Mr. Zappala thought the best option may be turning the structure into a senior-citizens' facility.

Since the only requirement for federal subsidy is being poor, he stated, "There are as many poor people who are elderly as young."

The police sweep was the largest in the building's nearly 40-year history. It resulted in 14 arrests for drug sales, as well as the arrests of seven others on outstanding warrants from Allegheny and surrounding counties.

About 50 authorities from the District Attorney's Drug Enforcement Team, the Port Authority Police, the Pennsylvania Parole Board, the Allegheny County Probation Office, several constables and police from Carnegie, Rosslyn Farms, Swissvale and Scott swarmed the building for four hours.

They blocked both entrances and rounded up suspects with rifles and drug dogs. Those arrested were placed on a Port Authority bus and driven to District Justice Dennis Joyce's office in Crafton for arraignment.

The list of offenders was compiled from an investigation that began March 4 and included drug buys by undercover police officers.

Mr. Zappala said the investigation uncovered a smorgasbord of available drugs.

"It's like going to a food court but with drugs," he said at a news conference the day after the raid. "What's disconcerting to me and the people of Carnegie is we had 22 apartments where we could buy numerous drugs."

Carnegie Towers residents arrested on charges of dealing drugs were Brittany Currie, 20, heroin; Curtis M. Farra, 18, crack-cocaine; Patrice M. Fordham, 21, ecstasy; Brian J. Davis, 30, oxycodone; and Janieka M. Farrar, 19; Fayette M. Payne, 37; Carrie Mayfield, 23; Brandon L. Reid, 27; Da Juan Jones, 19; Atazha D. Hutchinson, 20; Leonard F. Briscoe III, 32; and a 16-year-old juvenile, all of whom were charged with dealing in marijuana.

VonDae D. Freeman, 23, of the 2500 block of Bedford Avenue, Pittsburgh, was arrested in an eighth-floor apartment on a drug warrant issued by Indiana County, and Susan J. Siegler, 44, turned herself in Friday on charges of dealing in hydrocodone.

During the sweep, Marlos D. Johnson, 28, of the 2300 block of Almont Street, Mt. Oliver, was charged with providing false identification to police and defiant trespass in an eighth-floor apartment.

Police also confiscated weapons and earlier this week provided the arrest list to Carnegie Towers management. Under building rental terms, residents who compile criminal records are to be evicted.

Freelance writer Carole Gilbert Brown can be reached in care of suburbanliving@post-gazette.com .


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