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Crime & Courts

Did infamous Tampa apartment upgrades come with curfew?


Published:   |   Updated: October 7, 2013 at 06:14 AM

Dontae Morris, accused of killing two police officers, hung out there. So, too, did plenty of drug dealers, thieves and convicted felons.

The Kenneth Court Apartments off East Hillsborough Avenue had the roughest of reputations. But then SP Johnson Kenneth Limited Partnership bought the complex in 2010, changed the name to Silver Oak Apartments and spent more than $8 million on a massive renovation project.

Some of the improvements were cosmetic: new flooring, countertops and appliances in the apartments, fresh paint and landscaping outside. Some were security-related: A wrought iron fence was placed around the entire, 200-unit complex, leaving only one exit and entrance, which is gated and manned by a security company. New outdoor lighting was installed and a new security company was put in place.

Some residents say one other level of security recently has been added, though less visible: A 5 p.m. curfew.

Numerous residents The Tampa Tribune talked to said the complex has instituted a 5 p.m. curfew. Some said security guards had specifically told them to go inside because of a curfew, or that they believed there was a curfew but thought it was worth it for the security benefits.

Others discounted the curfew as a rumor. Nearly all had heard talk about it.

Ashley Crawley said she was standing by the stairs near her first-floor apartment watching as her 2-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter played on the playground at the complex near 5 p.m. one day last month.

A passing security officer told her to get inside her apartment, said Crawly, 26. She argued, she said, but eventually got her children and went inside.

“I think it's aggravating,” Crawley said. “We really have no place to sit or nothing, so we just stand out here in front of our doors. They'll come and say, 'You can't stand in front of your doors or go inside.'”

Shosharona Charlton said she was outside on the ground floor with her 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter on Sept. 9 when a security guard told her and several other residents to go inside their homes because it was past 5 p.m. She said the officer told her he was following orders from management.

Charlton said people at the complex had talked about the 5 p.m. rule, but that was the first time a security officer had confronted her and told her to go inside her apartment. She asked for documentation that there was a curfew.

“How you guys want us to follow a rule that you wouldn't give to us in black and white?” Charlton said she asked the officer. “I asked them for something in black and white. They wouldn't give us nothing in black and white.”

She went upstairs to her second-floor apartment. But a couple hours later, she said, she went outside the apartment and was talking with two friends when the security guard saw her again and told them to get inside their apartments because there was a 5 p.m. curfew.

Charlton said he'd have to get a Tampa police officer to force her inside. The guard later returned with a police officer as a witness, and the guard wrote her up for loitering, though the notice did not mention a curfew.

The complex offers federally subsidized Section 8 apartments with leases based on a tenant's ability to pay. Charlton said she has lived there for five years and had never received a letter in her file. If she gets three in a 12-month period, she could be evicted, she said.

“They really treat us like prisoners,” said Charlton, who is vice president of the residential council at Silver Oak.

Members of the apartment complex management team, Cambridge Management, and security officers are adamant there is no curfew and that guards don't tell residents they must be in their apartments after 5 p.m.

“At no time does he (the security officer) come and put anyone inside,” said Vance Stovall, sector supervisor for Code 3, the security company that works at the complex. “At no time does he (the security guard) say there's a curfew. He doesn't demand it. There's never been a curfew.”

He said the security guards who work there know the residents. If someone who doesn't live there is on the property without a resident, the officer will stop to ask who they are visiting and might ask for identification, Stovall said.

When visitors arrive at the gate, the officer will ask who they are visiting and what apartment they are going to, he said.

A Code 3 security officer does arrive at the property at 5 p.m. every day to begin a 12-hour shift. The officer wears a visible flak vest with pockets on the front to carry handcuffs, a flashlight and additional ammunition. The officer wears a handgun in a holster strapped to his thigh.

When the guard arrives, he usually walks around to survey the area and let residents know he is available, Stovall said.

The handgun and flak vest are more to guard against the people who live in the neighborhood just outside the Silver Oak Apartments, Stovall said. He said a carload of people once drove to the gate, and when they were barred from entering because they couldn't say who they were coming to visit, someone in the car threatened to shoot the guard.

“The environment that surrounds the property is dangerous,” Stovall said. “Our push is that we keep that disruptive element to the outside.

“The people who live here are fine and dandy,” he said.

Beth Wilson, director of special projects for Cambridge Management, said residents know there is no curfew.

“It's our belief that a handful of disgruntled residents have contacted you to make these complaints that we adamantly deny,” Wilson said.

On a recent weeknight, after the Tribune had talked to the management company about complaints made by some residents, people were seen outside casually talking with each other after 6 p.m. Other residents were walking from one unit to another and a small child was bicycling in the parking lot.

“I'm really proud of the fact that three years after the rehab the property looks as good as it looks,” Wilson said. “We've kept our goal of keeping crime down.”

Crime is indeed down, Tampa police say.

Last year, the department wrote a letter of reference and endorsement, saying crime had dropped and the quality of life had improved at Silver Oak Apartments. The letter said crimes robberies, burglaries, auto burglaries, drug sales, attempted homicides and homicides – had decreased on the property.

A strong relationship had evolved between the police and the management team, the letter states.

“This community is now a place of pride and joy,” the Tampa police letter states.

Silver Oak resident Deborah Walker said she's heard talk from other residents about the 5 p.m. curfew. She says the curfew is just a rumor.

“If it was that serious, (management) would have put notices on our doors,” said Walker, 50, a server at the University of Tampa cafeteria.

Walker, who has lived at the complex for three years, said she feels safer with the new security company.

“You feel comfortable coming in,” she said. “You know security is somewhere around. It would be a mess if security wasn't here.”

Tampa police officer Sigure O'Neal, who has worked in the area for five years, said there is no curfew but said people know loitering isn't acceptable at the complex. People are allowed to hang out at the picnic tables near the playground and at the splash pad, he said.

Tampa police Lt. Paul Lusczynski said the relationship between the police and Silver Oak Apartments management is solid and credits management and the new security team for improving safety.

“Our calls for service have plummeted in there,” Lusczynski said.

In 2011, Lusczynski said, five aggravated batteries and one sexual battery were reported at the complex. So far this year, one aggravated battery has been reported.

“They (the management) work very closely with us,” Lusczynski said. “It has become one of our better apartment communities.”

jpatino@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7659

Twitter: @jpatinoTBO

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