Lawbreakers banned from some Asheville neighborhoods as a way to deter crime

According to the list News 13 received in an open records request, more than 300 individuals couldn't adhere to the rules and were banned, but News 13 also uncovered that doesn't mean they stay away. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Asheville's public housing units in the last three years have seen gun violence and drug sales increase. A News 13 investigation showed how surveillance cameras have been pressed into action, but to deal with crime police are also using another tool -- banning people.

RELATED | News 13 Investigates: Do cameras in high-crime areas deter criminals?

Fidel Alvarez knows a thing or two about removing trees and debris from areas where most wouldn't venture.

“I'd say 10-15 years ago, I started climbing trees from California,” Alvarez explained as he shoved a branch into the shredder.

Fear doesn't work well in his line of work, but it's hard work that's paying off.

“That's what I'm trying to do, make this little business, make it bigger,” said Alvarez.

He had the same fearless mentality when confronting the man who neighbors claim broke into his Deaverview Apartment, where he also operated his business out of the home.

“Sometimes, you have to do what you have to do. To protect your little ones, you have to do whatever,” said Alvarez.

Alvarez was attacked, his jaw broken. He was left with a $28,000 medical bill from a man that did not belong in his neighborhood.

“He don't even live there in Deaverview Apartments,” said Alvarez.

Along with cameras, banning is a tool used by the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville to keep the criminal element at bay.

“It's very difficult to evict people with families. We don't want to do that, but we have some people who are just not going to adhere to the rules,” City of Asheville Housing Authority CEO Gene Bell said.

Records show in earlier years a person could be banned for parking in front of a dumpster or throwing water out the upstairs window on someone outside. In 2011, the trespass policy was updated and now reserves banning for the worst offenses, among them murder, drug crimes, kidnapping and cyber-stalking.

“It gives us the ability, if one of our residents is harboring someone that's a violent criminal, and then we take action against the resident if they continue to let that person come into that house,” said Bell.

Residents said the issues are with people who don't qualify to be on the lease because of criminal records, and yet residents provide them a room, and, according to residents, it's not always dealt with.

“That's what they should do from the beginning, not let no more people stay in the apartments when they're not even on the paperwork,” said Alvarez.

According to the list News 13 received in an open records request, more than 300 individuals couldn't adhere to the rules and were banned. But News 13 also uncovered that doesn't mean they stay away.

“A lot of the people on the ban list, they have friends, they have family, they have acquaintances, sometimes that's the neighborhood they grew up in, so they will be constantly drawn back to the neighborhood just to be able to keep up with their family and friends,” said Lt. Michael Lamb, with the Asheville Police Department.

NOTE: There may be multiple reasons for any one of the individual trespass notices, but the Asheville Housing Authority generally record the first or most significant one.

A look at the banned list showed at least seven who've faced charges in Deaverview after being banned. It's a misdemeanor crime to be on the property after being banned, and police have discretion to charge someone if they're found there. Jai "Jerry" Williams was banned before he led police on the chase that ended in Deaverview, where he was shot and killed.

“It doesn't work nearly as well as the origin of it many years ago when we started banning people in public housing throughout the nation. But what it does stop is violent criminals,” said Bell.

Alvarez disagrees. He'd like to see management take a tougher stance than the advice they're giving residents.

“She (the manager) told me to, don't even, you know talk to them, stay away from them if i didn't want to have problems,” said Alvarez.

Police said, while the goal is to protect housing authority residents, they also don't want to split up families.

“I don't want our fathers, our mothers to not be able to see their children. I don't want them not to be able to see their grandparents or their parents. I don't want any of that. I want them to have the same latitude that other people have. However. if they're committing violent crimes, then they basically said it's not important to see their parents,” said Bell.

In the past, the ban list has been as large as 700 people.

Anyone placed on the list can appeal after a year to have his or her name removed.

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