After warrant roundup, dozens of arrests, can Beaumont declare victory?

11th Street activity

“It’s still out there,” Officer Joe Ornelas of the Beaumont Police Department said of prostitution and drug solicitation along what is known in Beaumont as the 11th Street Corridor, an area of the city off Interstate 10 notorious for rampant vice crimes. “But it has dwindled some.”

Nearly a year ago, Ornelas was joined by dozens of his fellow officers and Jefferson County prosecutors in a massive warrant roundup targeting offenders in the 11th Street Corridor, armed with 104 warrants for 90 individuals accused of plying various unsavory trades. According to information from the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, 79 of the original 104 warrants were prosecuted, many of the offenders sentenced to prison and probation. Of the 90 individuals named in the indictments, only four have escaped apprehension to date: Deandrae Hood, 32, of Beaumont, wanted for Class B marijuana possession; Rayven Giles, 20, with a last known address at the 11th Street Corridor’s Travel Inn, wanted for possession of a controlled substance; Sedrick Spearman, 39, of Beaumont, wanted for possession of a controlled substance; and Chad Whiteman, 32, of Georgia, wanted for possession of a controlled substance.

But where others have come and gone, more are arriving to fill the void.

“Every now and then, you still have to go out there and remind them that we’re still here,” District Attorney Bob Wortham said.

Bad business

Along with the warrants served during the massive prostitution/drug roundup of May 2015, several businesses were also put on notice that their complacency in providing a haven for criminals to ply their trades was marking the commercial establishments for treatment as public nuisances. Among the businesses along the corridor receiving verbal and written warning were the Red Carpet Inn, the Travel Inn and Sunshine Valero – all situated near the intersection of 11th Street and Interstate 10.

Initially, Wortham said, investigators believed the Red Carpet Inn, the Travel Inn and Sunshine Valero were either “extremely lenient or an active part of” allowing the offenses to go unchecked. Those businesses, he added, were in danger of civil litigation through the District Attorney’s Office as part of the city’s 11th Street Corridor nuisance abatement program. According to the district attorney, drug crimes and prostitution are considered “a common nuisance” and allow for litigation that could shutter the doors for up to one year of any business “failing to abate the activity.”

All three named businesses were given letters asking for their cooperation in “resolving the criminal problems” occurring in and around their enterprises, vowing to prosecute should their support not be forthcoming.

For the most part, Wortham reports, the businesses have been compliant.

“We’ve gone out and talked to them and told them they’re not following up on their agreement a few times since then,” Wortham said, adding that although he’s only gone “one or two times,” representatives from the police department visit the establishments on a more frequent basis. “We’ve had several meetings and told them what the deal was. The deal is this: If they didn’t want to be part of the solution, then we would target them as part of the problem.”

With that, he said, “We found a real solution to a real problem.

“Has it been total absolution? No. Has there been a major reduction? Yes. On the whole, we consider the program to be very successful.”

Eleventh Street Corridor business owner Mark Jefferson said he sees prostitutes picking up clients near his salon on a relatively regular basis – although the foot traffic has decreased since police cleaned up the area last year.

“I still see them all the time,” Jefferson said. “But now it’s just usually the same ones over and over and over.

“It’s hard to build a business with something like that.”

Jefferson said he has persevered to build a business in that area, but doesn’t believe the problem will be totally addressed until more police and prosecutorial pressure is placed on those soliciting prostitution. Of the 104 warrants served in the 2015 11th Street Corridor roundup, none were for soliciting prostitution.

“Until you arrest the customer, you’re never going to get it under control,” he said. “My biggest complaint is they don’t arrest the customer.”

BPD Officer Ornelas said Jefferson and other business representatives from the 11th Street Corridor would be able to offer input into the area’s cleanup efforts during a meeting scheduled between BPD and 11th Street Corridor businesses on April 7.

“They want to talk about the criminal element in that area,” Ornelas said of the meeting, adding that business representatives actually requested the meeting, rather than the police department. According to Ornelas, the businesses are hoping to form an association akin to a Neighborhood Association.

Information from BPD explains that Neighborhood Associations throughout the city of Beaumont “assist citizens in expressing concerns they are having in their respective neighborhoods and a platform in which to promote change.” Ornelas agrees that the businesses in the 11th Street Corridor could benefit from that cooperative open dialogue which would occur not only within the association of businesses, but also with the police department.

“A lot of times, you get things like this where everyone sees what’s going on, but nobody calls the police so we can come take care of it,” Ornelas said. “If they will just call us, we’ll come.”

The scattering

Ornelas said he doesn’t believe the BPD prostitution sting last year along the 11th Street Corridor achieved all its goals, saying the prostitution problem has just moved.

“It’s like with everything,” Ornelas said. “You get them out of one spot and they move to another spot. We’re chasing them across the city.”

Wortham agreed with Ornelas’ assessment.

“Most of the complaints we receive now are telling us that the problem that was on 11th Street is now in other areas of the city,” Wortham explained. “They’ve just shifted.”

Aside from the fact that the massive efforts thus far have failed to stomp out the problem, Wortham said he believes the program has not been in vain.

“We believe it has been a real success. We’ve had very, very few complaints. And when we do get complaints, we address them right away.

“Sure, they come back from time to time, but when they do, we hit them – and we hit them hard.”

“As long as there are customers, there will be sellers,” Wortham said. “Our job is two-fold. We’re doing what we can to limit the supply, and discourage the demand.”