In recent months, a police informant made a dozen drug buys at a sprawling apartment complex that sits on the northern edge of Baldwin Village. In the last few years, authorities seized half a dozen firearms there and investigated multiple shootings and robberies.
Los Angeles prosecutors say the Chesapeake Apartments, a 425-unit complex spread over more than 17 acres, is a longtime stronghold for a street gang called the Black P-Stones and has been plagued by violent crime for decades. The gang is so deeply entrenched in the neighborhood, officials said, that its members have tattoos that reference the property.
Now, prosecutors are targeting the property's owners and managers to curb the crime. In a lawsuit announced Monday, City Atty. Mike Feuer alleged that their mismanagement has resulted in a "serious threat" to public safety and created an environment in which anyone who comes near the property is at risk of being a crime victim.
Feuer thinks that the head of the complex, Swaranjit Nijjar, should be ordered to live on the property until the problems are resolved. The lawsuit says Nijjar is the CEO of the company that's the sole general partner of Pama V Properties LP, which owns the property.
"Negligent, callous management has allowed the Chesapeake Apartments to become a hotbed of terror in this neighborhood," Feuer said in a statement. "We'll continue to hold property owners responsible for these harrowing conditions as we take back our communities."
Feuer's lawsuit seeks an injunction banning gang activity on the property, as well as a string of property improvements, including secure fencing and gating around the perimeter, an internet-connected video monitoring system accessible by the Los Angeles Police Department, improved lighting, better screening of tenants and the presence of armed, licensed security guards 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Harold Greenberg, an attorney representing Nijjar, said Monday that his client plans to cooperate with officials and install security cameras, hire guards for longer hours and improve lighting, among other changes.
"If someone's gang affiliated … we don't want them in there," Greenberg said. "We want clean, safe, affordable housing. Somebody's got to provide it. The city can't, the city's the worst slumlord."
But Greenberg said he will fight if the city attempts to shut down the property — even temporarily — and doesn't think Nijjar should have to live there. He added that security guards who patrol the area say that sometimes when they call the police, officers either don't come or show up late.
In the lawsuit, city officials said police officers face substantial risks when responding to the complex. In one incident in June 2016, a group of more than 30 people surrounded officers attempting to detain Black P-Stones members. One of the members became combative, and the officers called for backup. The lawsuit said the group included several children between the ages of 9 and 13 who joined in making gang-related threats toward police.
Prosecutors said Nijjar took control of the property in December 1996. Since then, the lawsuit said, the LAPD has logged more than 2,900 arrests and crime reports there, including homicides and rapes. Some criminal activity, including shootings, has gone unreported because residents fear retaliation by gang members, officials said.
The violence, the lawsuit said, is "perilously close" to two high schools, an elementary school and a sports complex frequented by neighborhood youth.
City prosecutors have long relied on legal action to crack down on gang activity. Since July 2013, city officials said, Feuer has filed 98 nuisance abatement lawsuits and secured 96 injunctions related to specific properties with documented gang and/or narcotics activity, said Frank Mateljan, a spokesman for the city attorney's office.
"The injunction serves as a tool to ensure property owners take the necessary actions to abate the criminal activity alleged," he said via email.