Prisoners in “Sober House” on Crack Corner Have No Supervision,
Escapes Continue with No Accountability
Paying Attention! with Tom Duggan
Tom Duggan – January 2012
LAWRENCE, MA – The intersection of Oxford and Lowell Street is known as “crack corner” by Lawrence Police because the amount of drugs and drug dealers in the neighborhood is staggering. The intersection is also the site of the 1983 riots in Lawrence and by far the most economically depressed neighborhood in the state.
Lawrence police say that at least two or three times a night they get a call to that area for violence, gunshots, prostitution, armed robbery or drug sales.
The area, and those who frequent it, are so widely known for crime and drugs that police officers looking for a shoplifting suspect from the Market Basket Plaza on Haverhill Street , only needed to park their cruisers at Oxford and Lowell and wait for her to show up to sell the items to buy drugs.
So, when the Valley Patriot began to get calls about Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins’ lack of supervision at a prisoner ‘sober house’ (a halfway house for inmates with substance abuse problems) and that the sober house was located at Oxford and Lowell Streets we had to go there and see for ourselves what was going on.
What our undercover surveillance team found during our ongoing investigation was Sheriff Frank Cousins’ lack of supervision over prisoners in his care. There was no security, prisoners having sex in the alley behind the building, and drug dealers coming and going from the property. We observed prisoners being dropped off in Sheriff’s vans late at night, who would go into the building, emerge later and leave the premises for hours at a time. Lawrence Police cruisers have been called to the building multiple times for disturbances with no Sheriff’s Deputy on the property.
On most of the evenings that we conducted surveillance of the old Lawrence fire station (now being leased by the Essex County Sheriff’s Department) we observed a Sheriff’s Department van parked outside the building, giving the impression that a Deputy was on the premises. But the deception was obvious when, night after night, our reporters witnessed the van being parked at the “sober house” on crack corner and a Deputy getting into another vehicle and leaving.
Under state law and sheriff’s department policy the prisoners at the “sober house” are supposed to have 24-7 supervision by a deputy, as the prisoners with substance abuse problems are either on an electronic monitoring bracelet, on parole or on probation.
CARE CUSTODY AND CONTROL?
In the late hours of December 13th our photographer was on hand as Lawrence Police were crisscrossing the neighborhood looking for a suspect who fled to that area. During the process of their search for the suspect one Lawrence cop found an Essex County prisoner who resides at the “sober house” in a car behind the building having sex.
For ten to fifteen minutes police held on to the prisoner while awaiting a Sheriff’s Deputy to arrive and take him into custody. According to Sheriff Cousins’ own internal policies anyone at a “sober house” caught breaking the rules is supposed to be brought back to Middleton for such violations.
But the prisoner we observed was taken from ‘crack corner’ back to the minimum security facility on Marston Street in Lawrence.
What’s more, that same prisoner (whose name we are withholding), was seen being dropped off again two nights later at the Oxford Street ‘sober house’ as if nothing had ever happened.
The owners of the “sober house” are contributors to Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins’ political campaign. Prisoners are charged $125 a week to rent the rooms and are transported to and from their mandated jobs by a Sheriff’s Deputy. They are not allowed to leave the building nor are they allowed to be in any vehicle other than a Sheriff’s vehicle for transport.
According to our sources in the Sheriff’s department, Sheriff Frank Cousins leases the building owned by his campaign contributor for thousands of dollars a month.
“We get called here all the time,” one Lawrence Police officer told the Valley Patriot asking not be identified because, as he said “this guy (Sheriff Cousins) is in Mayor Lantigua’s pocket and I don’t want to lose my job”.
Despite the fact that Frank Cousins is a Republican, Mayor William Lantigua endorses and campaigns for Cousins whenever he runs, showing up at his fund raisers and lending him Lantigua volunteers for his campaign.
The Lawrence police officers we spoke to regarding the ‘sober house’ located at ‘crack corer’ told us that the lack of Sheriff Department’s presence on the site has made their jobs that much harder and puts the public at risk.
“We could be out dealing with criminals who we haven’t locked up already instead of coming here all the time,” one officer said. “They are supposed to have someone here at all times to deal with these issues but, look at the time we waste while we answer calls on this stuff and then sit around waiting for a Deputy to come and handle a problem like this.”
“If the public only knew that their safety was being put at risk over there, even more than it already is given the neighborhood, because the sheriff isn’t doing his job” another police officer told us.
NO SUPERVISION AT “SOBER HOUSE” ON CRACK CORNER
According to police reports, and other documents obtained and viewed by Valley Patriot Staff, a prisoner housed at a different ‘sober house’ in Lawrence (located behind the Claddagh pub on Essex and Amesbury Streets) overdosed on drugs while in his room. His life was saved when his girlfriend (who was not supposed to be in the building) noticed he had passed out on the bed. She notified another prisoner who called Sheriff’s Deputies. Deputies, in turn, had no choice but to call 911.
The Valley Patriot spoke with several family members of prisoners (and former prisoners) being held at sober houses across Essex County and in particular one woman whose boyfriend was housed on Oxford and Lowell Streets last year.
“My boyfriend has a drug problem, the judge ordered him to get treatment, go into a program for his addiction and stay away from a certain element. Then the Sheriff puts him at Oxford and Lowell Street where he had access to all the drugs he wanted. All he had to do was tell the courts and the councilors what they wanted to hear and he was released early. What kind of Law Enforcement official puts people with drug abuse problems in a drug neighborhood in Lawrence to get “sober?” she asked.
“It’s not just the people of Lawrence that are being put at risk having a sober house on Oxford Street it puts the prisoners at risk too.”
The woman also admitted that the entire time her husband was at the ‘crack corner sober house’, “…only once or twice was there a guard in the building overnight.” He was assaulted more than once but nobody saw it, nobody was there.”
Sheriff Cousins Always Gets his Man …But How Many Times Does He Have to Get Him?
Last September, The Valley Patriot published a story of an inmate named James Walsh who had 43 felonies (most of them violent) on his record and was placed at the CAC (The Farm) in Lawrence. But when Walsh was recaptured, Cousin’s office put him back at the CAC only to have him escape again on his first day back there. In Walsh’s case the public was never notified of his escape and his danger to the public. In fact, the Sheriff’s Office complained that when they recaptured the prisoner, the press never covered the story of his recapture.
Despite the publicity in the Valley Patriot over the last few months detailing escapes, lack of public notification and lack of supervision of prisoners in Lawrence; Sheriff Cousins’ Office again last month, put another escape risk in minimum security at “The Farm” … only to have him walk away again on his first day.
The Sheriff’s Department failed to tell the public that Devon Hickson had escaped and also failed to report that this was Hinkson’s second escape. The first occurring only eight months earlier.
Hinkson’s file at the Sheriff’s Department has the words “Escape Risk” on page one.
“What is supposed to happen,” one former Deputy told The Valley Patriot, “is that a review board is supposed to evaluate each prisoner in custody and assess if they are violent or are deemed an escape risk, or they have been a discipline problem in the past. If that’s the case, they are supposed to deny the prisoners’ transfer to a ‘sober house’ or the CAC. Yet, time and time again prisoners who have walked away before are put back at the CAC.”
Sheriff Cousins has begun an internal investigation into how The Valley Patriot has obtained prisoner information and who might be “leaking” information to the press.
There is no word as to whether or not Cousins is investigating the spate of escapes, why prisoners have no supervision at ‘sober houses’, or why prisoners who had previously escaped were even placed back at the CAC in the first place.
All pictures and written material are (C) Copyright, Tom Duggan
& Valley Patriot, Inc., 2012, All rights reserved