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Years of drug activity at home leads to abatement action by city

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Records show abatement action has been a long time coming for neighbors of a property on Rockyford Street.

The Morganton Department of Public Safety has been inundated with more than 120 complaints about the home at 200 Rockyford St. since the spring of 2014, sources at the department said.

Neighbors, many of whom were afraid to give police their identity, sources said, reported traffic in and out of the home at all hours of the night, suspicious people and noise disturbances.

“This is your typical drug usage, drug transaction-type behavior,” the department told The News Herald.

From 2014 to 2019, officers received calls of domestic disturbances, fights, suspicious activity and warrant services, and most of those calls involved the daughters of the man who owns the property, sources said.

Those calls led to a SWAT team raid at the home on Dec. 10, 2019, and the seizure of 7 grams of methamphetamine as a result, sources said.

After an increase in calls to the residence, the department reached out to the property owner, who does not live in the home, and asked that he take responsibility for the property in 2021. He agreed, signing a no trespass agreement on April 27, 2021, that lasted three months.

The owner agreed to clean up the property and keep people on the property from causing a nuisance when he signed the document. Sources told the newspaper things changed on the property for the few months the agreement was in place, but complaints started rolling back into public safety in August.

On March 8, the department received a nuisance complaint about rats and people on the property, and police ended up seizing a large amount of methamphetamine at the home, sources said. Officers also observed “mountains” of trash and rodents on the property.

One of the property owner’s daughters was at the home when the meth was discovered, but sources said there wasn’t enough evidence to link her to the drugs and press charges.

The next day, March 9, the city of Morganton’s code enforcement officer got involved in the case. The officer at the time, Mike Kirby, could see trash accumulating outside of the home, said current code enforcement officer Thomas Warburton.

Kirby took photos of the issue and sent a warning letter to the property owner, telling him it needed to be cleaned up.

On May 23, MDPS officers responded to the residence with North Carolina Probation and Parole officers to check the property.

Investigators ended up seizing 19 grams of fentanyl, 58 grams of methamphetamine and an undisclosed amount of cash, according to a press release from the department.

They charged 43-year-old Angela Marina Santana, of the property, with trafficking in methamphetamine, attempted trafficking in opiates and maintaining a dwelling for a controlled substance the release said. Also charged was 34-year-old Adrian Lamar Wiggins, who was charged with possession of methamphetamine, the release said.

Santana was in court last week, where prosecutors presented no probable cause at her hearing, court officials said. That’s not unusual in drug cases, sources told The News Herald. It typically happens after a person initially is charged in a drug case when testing results haven’t been returned from the state crime lab. Investigators are expected to seek an indictment in the case once the crime lab results are returned.

The charge against Wiggins still is pending, according to a records check on the North Carolina Judicial Branch website.

Angela Santana’s sister, 41-year-old Lisa Marie Santana, has been on probation for maintaining a place for a controlled substance since March 29, 2021, according to a records check on the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. The North Carolina Judicial Branch website shows a pending probation violation in that case, but that violation does not appear to be related to this drug seizure.

The city’s nuisance case on the property was reopened by Warburton, who had joined the city after Kirby retired, the day after the drugs were seized, Warburton said. He issued an abatement order two days later, ordering the trash accumulating outside of the home to be cleaned up.

The homeowner entered another trespass agreement with MDPS, this one set to last a year, MDPS sources told the newspaper. It gives public safety officers the ability to charge anyone on the property other than the homeowner with trespassing, a sign posted in the yard said. He told public safety officials that he intends to sell the property within the next year, a source said.

A city contractor cleaned the outside of the property, Warburton said. The money paid to the contractor will be billed to the property owner, and if the owner can’t pay the amount, a lien will be taken out on the house.

“We don’t want to take away somebody’s property rights,” a source with MDPS told The News Herald. “It’s a fundamental right for people to own property, but it’s also a fundamental right for neighbors to be respected in their neighborhood and not have to worry about these sort of things, like drug dealing, disturbances and rats and trash ... it’s disgusting.

“When the property owners … when they choose to not be responsible, that’s when local government has to step in and advocate on the part of the neighbors.”

Chrissy Murphy is a staff writer and can be reached at cmurphy@morganton.com or at 828-432-8941. Follow @cmurphyMNH on Twitter.

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