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Brainerd City Council: Nearly 100 demand action on Juniper Street house

Nearly 100 parents and school officials demanded action in regard to a house on Juniper Street, where a double shooting took place earlier this month.

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St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic School principal Deb Euteneuer addresses the Brainerd City Council Tuesday night while Father Blake Rozier waits to talk. Friends and parents from the school packed the council chambers to express their concern for the property on Juniper Street across from the school. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls

Nearly 100 parents and school officials demanded action in regard to a house on Juniper Street, where a double shooting took place earlier this month.

At a Brainerd City Council meeting Tuesday, the group from St. Francis of the Lakes Catholic School overflowed into the hallway to address the council about the residence, across from the school, on Juniper Street that was the site of a Jan. 4 double shooting in which a Brainerd man was killed.

"The house is a current landmark of fear and anxiety to our children and to our families. No child should have to live through that," said St. Francis principal Deb Euteneuer.

She continued, "It's not acceptable. We need to have immediate action."

On behalf of the group, Euteneuer suggested a few fixes: Take the house down, take away the renter's license and sell the property or have the owner fix up the property to attract better renters.

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Parents are concerned about crime occurring at the four-plex apartment, and for the safety of the students, she said.

Scott Engelstad, father of two students at the school, spoke on behalf of the slew of parents at the meeting.

"I'm not here to ask the council to fix all the rental problems or solve low income housing," he said. "I'm asking you to fix one house that sits 100 feet from doors of the school where my children go to."

Engelstad said the council should address this house first, before tackling any other problem houses.

"If you can't fix this one, what makes you think you can fix any of the rental problems in the city of Brainerd?" he asked.

According to Brainerd Police Department records, the property on the 800 block of Juniper has been the subject of 57 calls since January 2012. The police calls included five disturbances, four noise complaints, three assaults, a kidnapping/assault and the shooting.

In response, school officials have decided to keep the school's doors locked until 7:30 a.m. before school and the doorways will be monitored. Before, the doors would open at 5:30 a.m. to handle deliveries.

DeAnn Barry, Executive Director of The Center, which is a neighboring property of the house and school, said users were also concerned for their safety, especially at night when walking to their cars.

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David Hermerding, assistant Crow Wing County attorney and parent of two children at the school, said, "The house just invites trouble. Unless you do something about this place, it will continue to be an eyesore, invite mayhem. ...You must act."

Mayor James Wallin said, "The city did drop the ball. I want you to trust us that we will do everything in our legal power to straighten out the situation."

Council member Kelly Bevans, the representative of the ward where the shooting took place, suggested suspending the license of the landlord at the house.

Bevans argued that if any other serious violation happened in other situations, like several drunk driving violations, Minnesota law would require the license be taken away.

The city does not have authority to suspend the license at this point, according to city ordinance, city attorney Eric Quiring said.

Ed Shaw, who lives 3 ½ blocks from the Juniper house and is a rental landlord himself, said the solution lies in current ordinance and actually enforcing it.

City code governing rental properties establishes the Brainerd Police Department as responsible for communicating with licensed landlords about conduct on properties deemed disorderly. Prostitution, illegal gambling, disorderly conduct and noise-related issues are considered offenses warranting police contact with a licensed landlord. This applies to people living on the property as well as their guests.

The code dictates the required procedure once the police department has informed the landlord of an issue. If another instance occurs within 12 months, the police department should notify the landlord of a requirement to submit a written management plan of how they intend to deal with the conduct issues; if a third instance occurs within the next 18 months, the licensed landlord is subject to denial, revocation, suspension or nonrenewal of their rental license for the property in question.

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The Juniper address in question was last inspected Nov. 5, 2014, and had 11 violations. The property owner fixed the issues, which included repairing a broken window and a hole in the wall. The property passed inspection on Nov. 18, 2014.

Prior to the shooting, Tom and Melissa Lake, who own the residence on Juniper Street, were sent seven letters regarding conduct on the property since November 2012. Three of these letters concerned noise complaints. Three letters were sent within four days of one another in January 2014, two addressing numerous vehicles or people arriving at and leaving the property and one concerning a tenant who apparently had medication stolen from them. The last letter addressed the incident last October where a man was allegedly assaulted and held against his will at the residence.

While there was no formal action taken at Monday's meeting, officials agreed it's vital to keep it as a top priority.

Council member Chip Borkenhagen said the situation is an opportunity for Brainerd to "really get serious on getting it together and becoming the community we want it to be."

JESSIE PERRINE may be reached at jessie.perrine@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/brainerdnews .

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