Cecil County Sheriff: 9 Drug Deaths in a Month, Lethal Strain Feared; Indian Acres Fight Flares

February 2, 2017

CECILTON—In just the first month of the new year, there have been nine fatal drug overdoses in Cecil County, amid concerns that new strains of deadly fentanyl is being mixed with heroin to create a serious new threat, Sheriff Scott Adams told a community “town hall” meeting in Cecilton Wednesday evening. (2/1/2017)

“We’re really concerned about fentanyl,” Adams told a packed meeting room at the Parklands apartment complex in Cecilton. “That’s what’s spiked these fatalities.” Later, Adams told Cecil Times that officials were still awaiting toxicology reports to confirm the specific causes of the local deaths. But the suddenness of the fatality spike, in addition to sudden surges in other counties such as Carroll and Harford counties, suggest that new strains of heroin or related drugs have hit the streets.

In January, there were a total of 58 drug overdoses in the county, which resulted in 9 deaths, Adams said. Other overdoses were reversed through administration of Narcan, a nasal mist that can revive drug abusers and prevent death. All emergency responders in the county have been trained to administer the drug and community groups, business owners and families of addicts have been trained and given supplies of Narcan to administer in an emergency.

The Cecil County Health Department issued a public health warning late last week about the potential for deaths and urged caution to drug users and their families but would not disclose the number of recent fatalities.

State data for three quarters of 2016 recently showed drug overdose deaths still elevated in the county but seeming to level off. (There were 22 drug overdose deaths in the first 9 months of 2016, the same number during the comparable period in 2015, but that year ended up with record fatalities, with 32 drug deaths for the full year. But the deadly drug fentanyl was an increasing threat locally, with 6 deaths related to use of that drug in part of 2016, in comparison with 4 fatalities in the comparable nine-month period in 2015).

However, the recent January 2017 numbers show that drug deaths are still a very real and escalating problem here.
[SEE previous CECIL TIMES report on 2016 drug overdose deaths and declining crime rates in 2015 here http://ceciltimes.com/2017/01/cecil-county-crime-stats-drop-in-2015-but-drug-od-deaths-still-high-in-2016/ ]

Adams also cited the new federal statistics, exclusively reported previously by CECIL TIMES, showing a more than 10 percent reduction in serious crimes in 2015. (Modestly, he didn’t note that the timeframe corresponded to his first full year in office as Sheriff.) But he also broke down the crime stats to the local audience, noting that the “southern patrol”—south of the C&D Canal and including Chesapeake City, Cecilton, Warwick and Earleville—is usually the lowest crime area in the county.

For 2016, there were 1,839 “calls for service” in the southern area, with 518 of those calls in Cecilton. “It’s relatively quiet for calls” in the south county area, he noted. But, so far this year, there were 3 drug overdose incidents in the south county, but none involved a fatality. Clearly, the drug overdose problem does not stop at the Canal.

Meanwhile, Adams recounted recent “civil unrest” as a challenge for law enforcement, especially the Baltimore riots after the death of Freddie Gray. Cecil County deputies collected donations and organized a truck convoy with 15,000 pounds of supplies—snacks, food and water–to Baltimore to aid local police during the riots. The Cecil group delivered much of the supplies to a church to assist the local community that was cut off by the nearby violence, and instead of anger directed toward police, the group was welcomed and thanked as local residents and church members helped unload the trucks. “At no time did I feel threatened,” Adams said.

But that experience convinced Adams that Cecil County needed to develop a “mobile field force” to respond to possible civil unrest here in the future. As a result, his department trained with the State Police and town police forces to organize a mobile field force operation that could quickly be activated if needed.

Recruitment of new deputies has been underway since the County Council approved a budget for the current fiscal year providing for an additional five deputies. Adams said 8 people are now in police academy training but there are also three additional vacant positions on the force. He noted that, with attacks on law enforcement officers all over the nation in the past year, it is a “struggle” to fill vacancies and convince potential applicants to undertake such a dangerous career.

Adams said he tells potential recruits that the Cecil County community strongly supports its local law enforcement agencies and that there is a warm welcome for new deputies. The Sheriff must be doing something right in his recruitment pitch: he said his own son, currently a college student, wants to become a police officer after graduation. “People ask me if I’d discourage him,” in light of the dangers of police work, Adams said. His answer is no, and “I tell them we need great people.”

Much of the local meeting was focused on concerns of angry residents of the Indian Acres campground in Earleville, who have also shown up en masse at recent County Council meetings to voice concerns about new ownership of their community, a zoning change proposal that does not apply to their community, and new concerns about summonses some people have received about potential “sheriff’s sale” of their lots due to unpaid fees.

Senior members of the Sheriff’s Department explained the state legal system, in which an order or summons issued by a local court is delivered by a Sheriff’s deputy. But the Sheriff’s department is in no way a party to the dispute, has no say in the court proceeding, and is not trying to “take” people’s lots away from them, agency officials noted.

On social media groups, some residents of Indian Acres have accused Sheriff’s deputies of siding with the new management and new owner of the campground, in angry and conspiracy theory-laden postings. But the new owner has appeared at county government meetings to dispute the contentions and say there are no plans to oust local residents, who own their lots, and planned improvements are simply designed to benefit all current residents.

One local activist, Laurie Cullen, complained that Indian Acres management tried to put her property up for “sale” because she had underpaid an electricity bill assessment by 32-cents. After the meeting, she told Cecil Times that she had managed to save her lot by paying the disputed fee, but worried that others, especially elderly or ill lot owners, would be unaware of potential legal actions against them.

She said she bought her property two years ago and nobody told her there was any limit on how long she could live there each year and her property deed did not limit residency. Several other residents speaking at the meeting also insisted they had the right to be at their property 365 days a year.

That viewpoint is contrary to multiple court rulings and legal skirmishes dating over a decade, which concluded that Indian Acres was legally a “campground” with limited times for occupancy and not a year-round residential community. In 2010, the Cecil County government gave residents a five-year break, giving them that long to find another permanent home, before enforcing zoning laws that limit campgrounds to seasonal residency. The county agreement, signed by the Indian Acres community, limits residency to 154 days per year.

[UPDATE: Cecil County public schools told Cecil Times that just one student is picked up by a school bus at Indian Acres now, indicating that at least one family is illegally living throughout the year at the campground. During the winter, campground management shuts off water and other services.]

A review of the official “bylaws” of the Indian Acres operation, posted on its website, shows that the management has for decades had the right to take lot owners to court and institute liens for unpaid fees, and that such liens can be converted into foreclosures after three years.

The latest kerfuffle stems from the 2016 sale of the remaining open lots and amenities to a new owner, who has taken an aggressive stance to enforce bylaws and clean up the community. Some local residents worry that the new management is trying to “steal” their lots, which they own, and wants to create a new luxury resort. Fueling their concerns is the fact that the new owner is one of the partners on a separate, new project in North East that is seeking a county zoning change to permit a campground, small hotel and restaurant complex in a “low density residential zone.”

The County Council has been besieged by the Indian Acres residents at multiple recent meetings, and despite zoning and legal opinion letters that the zoning proposal has no bearing on Indian Acres—which is zoned for “manufactured housing”—some local residents are unconvinced. The Council has amended the proposed zoning resolution to specify that it would NOT apply to “manufactured housing” zoning such as Indian Acres and is scheduled to vote on the measure next week.

Sheriff’s department officials agreed to respond to Indian Acres residents’ calls for information about whether their properties were scheduled for a sale under legal orders from the courts if people contacted the agency, in case they did not receive summonses posted at their property.

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