Police say the house served for years as a drug haven. Officers seize 175 pieces of crack cocaine and two guns, including an assault rifle.
CLEARWATER - Neighbors have complained about the house in north Clearwater for more than a decade. In that time, the house has become perhaps the most prolific drug haven in that part of the city, police say.
On Thursday night, the police shut it down. And neighbors stepped onto their front lawns and started clapping their hands.
"It was definitely the major street-level distribution point in north Clearwater and has been for a while," Deputy Chief Dewey Williams said of the house. "It's that kind of location that sends the quality of life in these neighborhoods down the tubes."
Williams said the house, 1107 Blanche B. Littlejohn Trail, has been a crack house for at least 10 years. Police in years past swooped in to arrest dealers, and some were shipped to prison. But others always took their place.
Williams said he told officers several months ago: "By the end of this year, it is going to be a priority of this department that this operation is going to get shut down."
But drug investigations are tricky. Police can't just barge into a house and start searching for the goods. They have to send in undercover police or informants to buy drugs. And they have to make several buys to show there is a pattern.
Over the last several months, residents have continued to call with complaints: people coming and going at all hours and obvious drug dealing going on inside and outside the home.
What the neighbors may not have known: Some of those doing the buying were undercover police.
Once the police bought enough drugs to build a case, they moved in on Thursday night and arrested six people on drug charges.
The owner of the house, Mary Starker, 60, was charged with selling and possessing crack cocaine. The suspected ringleader of the operation - an 18-year-old who uses a wheelchair and is named Erick Filer - also was charged with those crimes.
"He's just turned 18, and he's running probably the most prolific crack house in Clearwater," Williams said.
Also arrested on drug charges were: Cornelius Tatum, 24; Kahil Cruder, 23; Monica Wright, 26; and Marvin Mcauley, 15.
Police seized 175 pieces of crack cocaine and two guns, including an assault rifle.
City code enforcement officials also declared the house uninhabitable because of electrical faults and fire hazards. Williams said he hopes the shutdown will keep the area free of drugs for a long time.
"This one is like a weed we have been stomping on for 10 years and it keeps sprouting back up," he said. "I'm not convinced it won't sprout up again, but I think we gave it a really good shot this time."
He said the investigation into the activities at the home will continue. He said the arrests Thursday night nabbed all the major players in the operation, which had become brazen.
"They had gotten so bold that when we hit the house last night, not only did we recover crack cocaine inside the house, we recovered it outside," Williams said. "It was laid out on the hood of the car like a flea market. I've never seen anything that brazen."