BALLSTON-VIRGINIA SQUARE

Civic Association Newsletter

March/April 1997 - Volume 20, No. 5



DEMETER HOUSE LITIGATION--UPDATE

The focus of the litigation in Candage v. Arlington County, an appeal of the County Board's grant of a conditional use permit to Vanguard Services Unlimited allowing the relocation of the Demeter House drug rehab facility to Barcroft, has shifted from land use to public safety issues. On February 28, 1997, Plaintiffs appeared before Arlington County Circuit Court Judge Paul Sheridan for the fourth time in their effort to obtain Demeter House incident reports and other records concerning criminal activity, including illegal drug use, by Demeter House residents. Vanguard has refused to admit or deny that such drug use occurs, but has acknowledged that their policies do not require the expulsion of Demeter House clients for illegal drug use while in the program.

In an important victory for Vanguard, Judge Sheridan refused to change his earlier ruling of February 13 denying Plaintiffs the right to examine documents in Vanguard's possession concerning illegal drug use by Demeter House clients. Judge Sheridan based his ruling on federal regulations governing federally funded drug treatment programs that restrict the disclosure of treatment records containing "patient-identifying" information. Plaintiffs argued that information on drug use by Vanguard clients was vital to their case, and Plaintiffs made it clear that they were not seeking any information that would identify clients of Demeter House. The vast majority of Demeter House clients are in treatment for addiction to heroin or cocaine. The new Demeter House would be located well inside the Drug Free School Zone surrounding Barcroft Elementary School and within a two-house radius of homes where nine young children reside.

Plaintiffs also argued that illegal drug use does not constitute "treatment" as defined in federal regulations and that, in any event, they were not seeking patient-identifying information, but rather aggregate data or records of individual incidents but with patients' names redacted. Nevertheless, Judge Sheridan ruled against the Plaintiffs, even though other kinds of aggregate data on Demeter House clients (such as statistics on the number of clients who "abscond") have already been produced by Vanguard. In addition, Judge Sheridan denied Plaintiffs' request to examine Vanguard documents concerning the nature of other kinds of criminal activity either at Demeter House or by its residents. The Plaintiffs are now exploring whether to appeal Judge Sheridan's ruling to a higher court.

The Plaintiffs, however, have still made significant progress in documenting their concerns over public safety. In documents presented to the County Board, Vanguard officials stated that they had not had a problem with men coming around the current Demeter House facility. Deposition testimony, however, appears to confirm Plaintiffs' allegations that, contrary to Vanguard's claims, significant numbers of persons unrelated to the program have frequented the Demeter House premises in the past.

In addition, in a memo from the Arlington County Police Department presented at the County Board's October 5, 1996, hearing, the police summarized 33 calls for police service to Demeter House over the past 5 years (originally, the police reported only two such incidents). As to several of those incidents that were described as "suspicious circumstances" or "miscellaneous public," the police stated that no reports were available. On December 26, Plaintiffs issued a request to the County to produce all police records pertaining to the 33 police calls. Initially, the County declined to produce any records or portions thereof, claiming they were privileged. After Plaintiffs filed a motion to compel the County to produce the records, the County provided computer printouts (extracted September 24!) concerning each incident listed and, after further prodding, numerous incident reports as well. Thus, the records that the County denied were available have indeed been available all along, including records on incidents of persons outside the facility "threatening" and "stalking" Demeter House residents, two arrests for assault and battery of Demeter House clients resulting from an incident on the premises, and an incident in which a Demeter House client drove her own car (a violation of Demeter House rules) to an Arlington location where she was employed and committed an act of embezzlement.

In addition to alleging the Demeter House will adversely affect Barcroft residents' safety, the Plaintiffs allege that the permitted use is in conflict with the Arlington County General Land Use Plan and will cause injury to their property and improvements.

The trial of this case is scheduled to begin on March 25. If you would like additional information, or you would like to help support the Barcroft residents' efforts, call Jane White at (703) 521-0823, or write Jane White, 4216 South 4th Street, Arlington, VA 22204.



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