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Magnet for danger, Cedar Rapids house alarms neighbors
CEDAR RAPIDS — What was once a quiet neighborhood where a mother didn't have to worry about her kids riding their bikes to nearby Bever Park has transformed into one where neighbors say they have been subject to bullets from drive-by shootings striking their homes, stolen cars being abandoned on the street and noise at all hours of the night.
One neighbor called it 'a living hell.' Another said he and his family lived in the basement for six months out of fear of stray bullets.
City officials and neighbors point to one address as a magnet for the neighborhood mayhem: a rental house at 2307 Bever Ave. SE.
'Believe me I share the neighbors' frustration and understand their fear,' said Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman. 'This is how one house, how an incident of shots fired, can impact a neighborhood and have a negative impact on everyone. They shouldn't have to face it. They deserve and are entitled to live in a quiet neighborhood.'
Last year from Jan. 1 through Oct. 15, there were 25 disturbance calls; 13 weapon calls; two thefts; one domestic incident; and seven suspicious persons reports in connection with 2307 Bever Ave. SE, said Cedar Rapids Police Lt. Cory McGarvey.
Officers also have made eight arrests since 2018 of tenants who lived there — including charges of assaults, outstanding warrants, carrying weapons, drugs, harassment, possession of firearms as a felon and robbery, according to police reports. Many of those arrested were juveniles.
McGarvey said the house first came to his attention in January 2020 after a drive-by shooting there on Dec. 30, 2019. The department put extra patrols in the area and made 531 proactive visits to the neighborhood from Jan. 1 through Oct. 15, 2020. When officers had paperwork to catch up on, they would park nearby and monitor the neighborhood.
As the incidents escalated from trespassing and disturbances to shots fired and even a pipe bomb exploding, police started working with the city's Safe CR, which addresses nuisance and building code violations.
Last year, the city deemed the house a nuisance property, along with three other properties also owned by Charles A. Davisson, 58, of Cedar Rapids, who has these and other properties listed under Property Holders LTD.
The city later suspended Property Holders from renting out the four properties, a decision Davisson is appealing.
Peter Riley, Davisson's Cedar Rapids attorney, said most of the trouble at 2307 Bever Ave. SE stemmed from a young man who no longer lives there. At one of the other properties also declared a nuisance, 619 15th St. SE, most of the issues were due to a tenant who Property Holders tried to evict but was denied by the courts, Riley said.
Amanda Grieder, public safety program manager with Safe CR, said there have been 'chronic' enforcement issues on the four properties — 2307 Bever Ave. SE; 619 15th St. SE; 1557 Sixth Ave. SE; and 1025 20th St. SE.
Grieder told the city's Housing Board of Appeals the Bever Avenue house became a nuisance in July 2020, and Davisson didn't appeal nor submit a nuisance abatement plan to correct the violations — and the calls to police continued.
When a property is deemed a nuisance, it is based on the type of police calls for that address in accordance with nuisance and housing codes.
In September, a request was made to revoke or suspend his rental unit registration.
The occupant at that time, Michael Anthony White Sr., 52, also an employee of Property Holders, submitted a proposal but Grieder said it didn't meet the code requirements for a nuisance abatement plan.
Kevin Ciabatti, director of the city's Building Services, said the housing board voted in November to suspend Davisson's registrations on the four properties for six months. Davisson has appealed the decision.
Ciabatti said he could not recall another time in his nine years there that another nuisance property owner has had the rental registration suspended or revoked.
According to city records, Property Holders owes $1,348 for nuisance violations for the Bever Avenue property alone. Davisson owes the city $6,644, of which $3,873 is for assessments against his properties for public improvements. The oldest outstanding invoice is dated Feb 22, 2008 and the most recent outstanding invoice is Jan. 20.
Court documents show 14 of Davisson's properties are in foreclosure. One of the properties that had suspended rental registrations is included in those — 1557 Sixth Ave. SE. Riley said his client has been making monthly payments on those loans and got behind. Davisson will refinance those before they go to a sheriff's auction, he said.
'A living hell'
Police believe that some former tenants or associates of 2307 Bever Ave. SE were affiliated with a gang. They believe the drive-by shootings and shots-fired incidents were in retaliation for an ongoing dispute.
Several neighbors interviewed by The Gazette said they feared for their safety because of potential retaliation and spoke with a reporter on the condition their names not be used. The accounts they provided, however, are supported by police or by videos they shared.
One of the neighbors, a 39-year-old hotel manager, said she and others were 'terrorized' in their own homes. She had security cameras installed last year, which she felt was worth the expense. It didn't seem to stop the activity but did help back up her complaints to police.
The hotel manager said people associated with that house would run back and forth through her yard, making her feel so unsafe that she didn't spend time in her backyard or even use her garage for fear of 'getting hit by a stray bullet.'
Another neighbor, a 63-year-old grandmother, said she was considering moving away after living there for 33 years.
'It's been a living hell,' the grandmother and retired teacher said. 'I babysit my 11-month-old grandson and worry for his safety. We've had shootings, stolen cars just left in front of our houses. My husband was in the back barbecuing in October when one drive-by happened. It hit another man's house and gas line.'
She said the neighborhood has changed from a quiet, peaceful place. She never worried about her three kids walking down Bever Park or riding their bicycles with their friends all over the area.
The grandmother and other neighbors wrote a group letter that was considered when the Safe CR request was sent to the Housing Board of Appeals in November.
White, the Property Holders employee who had lived at the house, said he thought most of the calls complaining about the property came from one neighbor who had a problem with Black individuals living in the home. He said her calls were unfounded.
However, the neighbor White referred to wasn't interviewed for this article and police said none of the neighbors brought up race as being an issue.
Police said White himself also had called police for help for noisy parties and people in the yard at 2307 Bever Ave. SE.
A teacher, who lived near the home, said he talked to Lt. McGarvey after the December drive-by shooting. A bullet hit his house, in the bedroom area, but nobody was injured.
The teacher said he had lived there for 17 years, but moved out last August because the ongoing incidents. He and his family lived in the basement for the last six months they were there because they were afraid of further incidents.
The teacher said there had been a previous drive-by shooting at the house and a pipe bomb thrown out a car window. He captured those incidents on a surveillance camera and shared them with police.
The videos also were shared with The Gazette.
Another neighbor, Scott McWherter, said he first experienced a problem in mid-October 2020, less than three months after moving there: His house was struck in a drive-by shooting.
There were five or six shots fired and one bullet left a hole about the size of '50-cent piece' in his steel siding and another bullet hit his gas line. Police retrieved the bullet from his siding.
'I hit the floor when I heard the shots and waited for the shooting to stop,' McWherter said. 'When I called 911, the neighbors had already called.'
McWherter said there was another drive-by in February in the alley behind 2307 Bever Ave. SE, although the house was vacant by then. Another neighbor provided a video from her surveillance camera of that incident to The Gazette.
McWherter commended police efforts in the neighborhood, saying they likely spent a lot of money for extra patrols.
City Council member Dale Todd, chair of the city's public safety committee, said Davisson isn't the only property owner to impact a neighborhood, especially a low-income neighborhood. He estimated another nine or so are out there in Cedar Rapids.
'These landlords usually stay one step ahead of the problems,' Todd said. 'We shouldn't normalize these landlord practices. The property owners have a responsibility to make sure their property and the tenants aren't a detriment to the neighborhood.'
Todd said that in this case, an interdepartmental team of city staff — nuisance abatement, building services and police — and neighbors were brought together to find solutions.
'We started having meetings over video because of the pandemic and it allowed us to connect the dots in real time and allowed us to hear the emotional pull this activity had on the neighbors,' Todd said.
He credited Jerman for authorizing this, which hasn't been done before — police sharing information of ongoing investigations with the neighbors.
McGarvey said officials expect the house will likely be up for renting out again after the six month suspension expires, unless the property owner has more issues with his properties.
Police, he said, will be watching the situation.
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