FULTON, NY – Last week, an entire first ward neighborhood came together to express fear for their safety and frustration in their dropping quality of life, allegedly stemming from a “problem house” in their neighborhood.
In response, Fulton Police Chief Orlo Green III and FPD Investigator Stephen Lunn joined Mayor Ronald Woodward Sr. and members of the Fulton Common Council to address misinformation and answer questions from neighbors in the West Second Street and Phillips Street area.
The house in question, 102 W. Second St., is an owner-occupied multi-family property.
The owner (Eric Demott) is scheduled to appear at City of Fulton court in early October for “several reasons” centering code violations, Mayor Woodward said.
Neighbors made complaints such as drug activity at the house, trash spilling out of the house into the yard, animal cruelty, and finding drug paraphernalia in yards throughout the neighborhood.
The property has been without water or electricity for several months, leading to the house being deemed “unfit for occupancy” by city officials – though such designation does not require the property owner to forfeit the property, Woodward said.
The owner has been arrested eight times since the beginning of the year, racking up several “dog at large” charges as well as city code violation in regard to housing maintenance/rental permit in July and criminal possession of a controlled substance in August, according to police records.
Several neighbors have placed complaints with Fulton Police Department, now questioning why nuisance abatement laws that allow removal of a tenant based on police response and convictions cannot be effective.
City officials no longer enact the nuisance abatement law as growing response from the Civil Liberties Union presented more and more legal cases suing municipalities under the assertion that the law discourages victims of domestic assault from calling for help due to fear of losing their housing, Woodward explained.
The nuisance abatement law excludes this particular circumstance anyway, he added, as the property owner resides in the home. The former law was applicable to non-owner occupied rental properties.
The biggest concern for neighbors, however, comes from a four-year-old child that dwells in the residence with a tenant.
Several neighbors have filed reports to Child Protective Services through Oswego County Department of Social Services. In fact, Chief Green placed a report when the house’s water was shut off in May 2018.
Though DSS Commissioner was not available for comment by time of publication, state guidelines of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services explain, “If the condition represents a health or safety hazard to the child which the parent or other person legally responsible is unable or unwilling to correct or take reasonable steps to correct, protective intervention is warranted.”
However, it continues to add that consideration is given to the parent’s explanation for the living conditions, the condition of the child, and to what degree the parent has made attempts to provide adequate conditions.
Chief Green said he received a follow up call from CPS reporting that the house had drinking water available and the child was bathing elsewhere using other supports.
“What it comes down to is what the Department of Social Services determines to be the minimum living standard for someone. While they may be (higher) for everybody in this room, it’s shockingly a lot further down for where they will intervene,” he said.
Neighbors turned their attention to what can be done as law-abiding city residents to ensure the safety and quality of life of their neighborhood.
Investigator Lunn encouraged all neighbors to report any and all suspicious activity. He assured that Fulton Police Department will evaluate all reports.
In fact, even minor reports that may seem unimportant can be essential in building a case, he said.
Green reminded the neighbors that just a person walking the streets with a backpack or seemingly high, or even a person walking the street with a sword or firearm (all as alleged by neighbors) is not illegal in just that action alone.
“Somebody being high and walking up and down the street, that’s not illegal. It’s sad… but it’s not illegal,” Green said.
“Having a firearm walking up and down the street, in today’s day and age that’s alarming and concerning,” Lunn said, however, courts and laws have not caught up to today’s trends, recalling commonly seen gun racks with firearms in pickup trucks just 50 years ago.
While the department will respond to a call regarding someone in possession of a firearm to ensure it is legally obtained and secured, the law restricts their ability make an arrest for simply possessing the weapon.
“In public and society, we are bound by the Constitution,” Lunn said. “You’re right, it’s alarming and concerning, but is it illegal? It is not,” Lunn added.
Eyewitness accounts are beneficial for reporting to law enforcement, but alone cannot warrant an arrest either.
Lunn explained that although a resident may witness what they believe to be a drug exchange, a judge – ruling as an impartial party- would not find the eye witness credible without proven evidence that what was exchanged was in fact an illegal substance.
“Everyone is entitled to due process of the law. The same laws that protect us and we enjoy, they take advantage of,” Green said.
Together, Lunn and Green reminded residents to always call 911 with any emergency report as they are equipped with recorded calls, around the clock staffed dispatch response, and specific training centered around questions pertinent to initiate a response.
For non-emergent reports, Lunn and Green offered business cards with contact information and told residents that they can call the desk officer when looking for general requests, such as finding a needle and reporting it to be safely and properly discarded.
Lastly, they cautioned residents to remain level headed and never confront suspicious or potentially dangerous situations, reminding residents that if they interject themselves in an unlawful situation, they may be subjected to arrest even if they believe they are trying to help.
Lunn encouraged residents to follow through when the Fulton Police Department makes an arrest as the arrest itself is only the first of many steps.
To know what happens to the defendant post-arrest, residents may need to be in contact with the District Attorney’s office or the court or judge presiding over the case, Mayor Woodward said, as those are the responsible parties for decision making once an arrest is made and the defendant is arraigned.
(Continue reading Oswego County Today daily – an upcoming article will detail the process of arrest and post-arrest in criminal cases.)
They asked residents to remain patient as best as possible and work together with city and law officials through to resolution. Though it may take time, it will come.