Ward 22 Alderman Rev. Drew King — who was arrested multiple times and briefly jailed for allegedly assaulting a woman and then trying to make contact with her — may have been set up to be arrested and publicly humiliated by resentful tenants of the property he owns on Edgewood Avenue.
Interviews with residents of the neighborhood in which the incident took place, including tenants of the property and its neighbors, suggest that King, 55, may not be guilty of the crimes with which he was initially charged. The primary witnesses to the event — the residents of the property — are said by some neighbors to be troublemakers and were described by a local policeman as a “difficult population.” King’s vow when he took over the hosue to turn it around into a “sober house,” like another property he owns on Sherman Avenue, seems to have infuriated longtime tenants of the house, perhaps sparking the ill will that led to the recent series of incidents.
On Dec. 22, Kia Williams, 24, called police during the early evening. She said King — whom she accused of being drunk and under the influence of drugs — had beat her with a stick he grabbed after a fight over a “Georgia Hot” hot dog. King was arrested and charged with assault, disorderly conduct and unlawful restraint. Several witnesses who live or were living at the property have since confirmed Williams’ account.
King has always maintained a different story. He said in a December interview that Williams “went berserk” after he took a piece of sausage, grabbing a stick and beating him with it. King had speculated then that she was resentful because he was trying to evict her and her housemates who refused to stop taking illegal drugs.
But other evidence has been stacked firmly against King. It is indisputable that he violated a protective order several days after the arrest that barred him from further contact with Williams; a policeman happened to be with the woman when he suddenly walked into the house. Also, records show that he is several thousand dollars behind in taxes. As a result, city leaders have become increasingly suspicious of his ability to continue serving on the board. Meanwhile, he says, he has checked himself into a New Haven rehabilitation program and will not return to the board until next month.
But in an interview Thursday, Terry Bari, a witness to the event who has lived at 274 Edgewood Ave., gave contradictory accounts of the details of Dec. 22 incident. She initially said that King was the sole aggressor in the fight, but she later said Williams grabbed the stick first. Bari also said that she has never witnessed drinking or drug use on her property except when King would come to the house. Three empty bottles of brandy and one container of wine were lying within several feet of the front porch on the lawn Thursday morning.
The property in question is registered as a one-family home, but at least three separate tenants appeared in the house during the course of a reporter’s visit, and multiple cable lines run into the window. More than a dozen torn lottery tickets were scattered on the lawn and on the porch of the home. Bari said she hardly has enough money to survive — let alone buy lottery tickets — because King, and now the city, takes most of it for rent. But neighbors confirmed Bari often buys tickets, including one neighbor who said Bari bought a $20 ticket on Tuesday. Bari said the alcohol and tickets must have been scattered in front of the house by passersby — though the yards of neighboring houses are free of similar litter — and she said King was a “slum lord” and “the landlord from Hell.”
Local police and residents say the property has been this way for quite some time, even before King acquired it in August. Local precinct officer, Lt. Ray Hassett, said the house has long had a “difficult population.” But he emphasized that state laws are clear when it comes to claims of domestic violence: charges must be pressed against the alleged assailant.
“Based on the info received, we proceeded forward,” he said. “We go on the statement of the victim and also any injuries that were apparent.”
A Dixwell resident, who asked to remain anonymous in order to ensure his personal safety, said he was a former “crack dealer” with connections to area drug rings. He said he saw the fight and incident, and when he read about it in the New Haven Register the next day, he knew the official story was a fabrication.
“Drew King was set up,” the man said. “What happened to him was the girl’s fault. He did not hit her.”
Neighbors said people come and go from the house, usually as Bari sits on the porch. William Bixby, who lives next door, said the house is a “magnet” for troublemakers. Bari denied that her friends take or deal drugs, but she said few people visit her these days because of all the “attention.”
Bixby said King was the first landlord in the past several years to actively try to evict the drug users who inhabited the house. He said he believes that King — who has worked with him to break up neighborhood fights and who paid to install neighborhood street lamps as part of the “Light the Night” program — was possibly set up for trouble by his suddenly resentful tenants.
“He really seemed to be making a very sincere and serious effort to run a sober house,” said Bixby, a 59-year-old New Haven realtor and landlord. “There are several tenants in that house who admit drug dealers and allow them to do their business inside. A lot of them who go in there were not let in by Mr. King.”
When one tenant, who said his name was Gerome, was asked whether King was trying to stop the drug deals and use inside the house, he stepped out onto the house’s porch and made one remark without further elaboration.
“Drew King can kiss our asses,” he said, visibly angry, before returning inside.
Bixby said he speculates that the tenants were not paying their rent after King told them he wanted to make the house sober, which may have caused King emotional strain, leading him to resort to alcohol.
Bari said she always pays the rent, but then she said “How could you pay rent for this dump trap?” soon after saying that King might find himself “dead” on the street if he displeases her too much in the future.
King could not be reached for comment Thursday. Neighbors of the household who claimed to have knowledge of the goings-on in the home all said King, who is married, had been having an affair with Williams for about three weeks prior to his arrest.
Other neighbors confirmed the claims of Bixby and the Dixwell observer that King was trying to improve conditions since taking ownership of the property, which, they said, has been an epicenter of violence and illicit activity.
Jimmie Johnson, 70, who lives on Platt Street, between Elm Street and Edgewood Avenue, said he never walks towards the Edgewood side because “it’s a problem down there,” which he said he knows because he has heard arguments and seen fights for many years.
“My folks always told me, ‘Son, when there’s trouble that way, go the other way,’ ” he said.
Gladys Josephs, who lives several houses away, said she has heard commotion coming from the house for several years, especially during the day and warm nights. Bixby said he can also see activity at night, but when he invites the police to watch, they refuse.
“I’ve made repeated requests and they didn’t feel they had probable cause and didn’t want to waste their time on [evidence] that’s going to be thrown out,” he said.
As for whether the negative attention paid to King in recent weeks was justified, Bari is unflinching in her conviction that it was. She maintains that King has been tormenting tenants almost since the day he took it over.
“Drew got what he deserved, and he needs to lose everything for the shit he’s been doing to people,” Bari said.