In rare nuisance hearing, city pushes to close SW Atlanta gas station

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Judge expected to release ruling within 30 days

The city of Atlanta laid out its case on Thursday for why it wants to see the court close down a southwest Atlanta gas station it calls a “safe haven for crime.”

During a five-hour-long nuisance hearing in the Atlanta Municipal Court, city prosecutors urged the city’s chief judge to declare the Citgo gas station on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in the Adamsville neighborhood a public nuisance, under a provision in the city’s code that was just strengthened last year to crack down on negligent property owners.

“They’re not trying to help themselves. ... APD cannot be their personal security guard,” Deputy Solicitor Erika Smith said during her closing argument, adding that the property ranked No. 1 in the city for crime among gas stations and convenience stores. “Let them know the city of Atlanta cares about Adamsville. Shut them down.”

The owners and operators of the gas station and convenience store, meanwhile, argued the city could not prove that their actions caused crime to occur, and that closing the gas station would only cause lawlessness to go elsewhere in the community.

Chief Judge Christopher Portis is expected to release a ruling on the case in the next month. If he declares that a nuisance exists, there are several steps he can order the owner and operator to take, including closing. The defendants could still choose to appeal that ruling.

In the meantime, the City Council is continuing to debate whether to further strengthen its nuisance code to make it easier for the city to shut down businesses that have been deemed a nuisance twice within two years. The issue has been central to conversations around public safety since the pandemic, when former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms put a focus on tackling problem properties, ranging from clubs to gas stations to apartment complexes.

ExploreSW Atlanta community rallies against violent crime at Adamsville gas station

While the police department keeps a lengthy internal list of properties it’s keeping an eye on, only a handful have made it before the court for a formal hearing in the last two years. The Citgo at 3657 M.L.K. Jr. Dr. is one of those properties.

The land is owned by a local family that has had the property for decades. They lease it to a company, Arrowest Inc., that runs and manages operations at the Citgo, which is open 24/7.

Dozens of local community members attended the hearing and heard testimony from 14 Atlanta police officers and investigators who described crimes they have responded to at the Citgo over the past three years — including shootings, a stabbing and a homicide in early 2020. One after another, the officers testified that the business did not have on-site, private security when the crimes occurred.

Kelly Collier, the former commander for Zone 1, where the gas station is located, said police made 62 arrests at the Citgo in 2021. Maj. Reginald Moorman, the current Zone 1 commander, said there have been 394 calls for police service there.

“It’s a challenge on my manpower,” he said.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Attorneys for the management company said they have hired private, armed security in the past at a large cost, though it hasn’t been a constant. A manager for the gas station testified that private security was hired in recent weeks — because the Citgo was hit with the nuisance action.

Attorney Mike Bowers, who represents the business, argued that crime occurs elsewhere, and closing the business won’t necessarily solve the problem.

“The obligation to ensure there’s no crime is on (the police), not my client,” said Bowers, who also served as the state’s attorney general from 1981 to 1997. “The city is asking for us to become vigilantes.”

Officers and community members said loitering is constant at the gas station, and they have seen open drug deals take place. City Councilwoman Andrea Boone, who represents the area, testified that the business “has caused so much anguish” in the community. ‘It has become a warzone.”