LaToya Fields moved into her home on the corner of Yorkshire and Cottage Grove in July, hoping to find a better neighborhood for her five children.
She wanted to keep her kids, who range from 6 to 14 years old, in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools. They were were living on Altamont at the time, a street she said was "horrible." She saw the sleepy, tree-lined street with well-manicured lawns and potted plants on porches and decided to rent the home known as 3076 Yorkshire Road, which is connected to 2037 Cottage Grove Ave.
Since she has lived there, police have visited the home more than a dozen times and guns have been fired outside of her home twice.
She won’t let her kids play outside unless she is sitting on the front porch. They used to be allowed to walk the dog, but now that’s a prohibited activity, too.
Just a few days after she moved in, the problems started. She described the family living on the Cottage Grove side as “the neighbors from hell.”
A series of complaints
Fields, 32, spoke about the incidents to members and about 80 people , concerned about recent crimes, including a shooting on Saturday night.
“I came home and I found a garage full of teenagers doing things that they necessarily should not be doing in the garage,” Fields told the crowd. She then complained to her landlord. “The (mother) has since let me know and let my landlord know that she was going to make my life and theirs a living hell, which she has done.”
She stood at the podium and said a boy from the house next door stole her computer while her 70-year-old mother and two children were home. A neighbor stopped him, she said, and returned her property. Fields pointed him out at the meeting, smiling.
From Aug. 12 to Oct. 4, neighbors and the landlords of the property, Sura and Haris Sevastopoulos of Pepper Pike, have called police more than a dozen times to complain about events at 2037 Cottage Grove, according to records from the .
Residents complained of everything from loud parties to gunshots, and neighbors, police and city officials believe the mother has not lived there for some time.
Residents at the troubled address could not be reached for comment. On Tuesday, a porch light was on, but no one responded to knocks.
On Sept. 7, police received several calls about possible gunshots fired near the home. Police responded and said that there was a fight outside. Officers arrested a 16-year-old boy and charged him with felonious assault, as he was “determined to be the one who fired the weapon,” police said. Two others were arrested, a 17-year-old boy from Cleveland Heights charged with disorderly conduct, and another 17-year-old boy from Cleveland Heights charged with trespassing.
None of the teens arrested lived in the home, police said, but the incident happened in the yard. No one was injured.
On Sept. 9, Sura Sevastopoulos called, requesting a welfare check on the home, according to police records, as she believed the mother, the lessee, was absent.
“These people moved in, we screened them, I talked with employers, previous landlords,” said Sura Sevatopoulos, who has owned the house for 16 years, at the meeting. “(The lessee) moved in with her mother. Her mother died, early spring, and that’s when LaToya moved in and that’s exactly when everything started. As LaToya said, we immediately tried to evict. But there had never been a problem before that.”
The first eviction did not go through, said Rick Wagner, manager of housing programs for Cleveland Heights, because of a paperwork error.
On Sept. 29, police conducted a welfare check and were “unable to make contact,” according to police records.
And last week, police heard there was going to be a huge house party there. An officer called one of the residents, 19-year-old Darius McClain, and he was “advised of zero tolerance for party to be held on Oct. 1,” according to police records.
To make sure the party didn’t get out of hand, officers were stationed in the area that night.
Gunshots fired Oct. 1
Two officers arrived in a car around 7:30 p.m., said Police Chief Jeffrey Robertson at the meeting Monday night.
They monitored the area until they were pulled away on another call from the Forest Hills neighborhood at 9:37 p.m. Less than 20 minutes later, someone fired two shots, likely from a car, outside of the Yorkshire home, Robertson said.
Two of Fields' children and her mother were home at the time. She told council members that the shots were fired at her house.
She was at a movie and received a frantic voice mail from her 7-year-old daughter around 10 p.m., five minutes after the incident.
“She said, ‘Someone is shooting. Can you come home? We’re scared,’” Fields recalled.
She said when she returned home around 11 p.m., 10 police cars were outside of her home.
"You could see the kids (from 2037 Cottage Grove) mooning the officers outside of the window. They were jumping out of windows. They were throwing things out of windows,” she said at the meeting.
More than a dozen people who attended the council meeting that night told similar stories — the series of events leading up to the shooting, their children waking up to the sound of gunfire. They said they have called police to complain about other criminal activity and youth walking in the middle of the street, refusing to move.
“I don’t want to move. I don’t want to leave Cleveland Heights. I don’t want to pull them away from their friends … I just want to keep (my children) stable,” Fields said.
Police arrested one adult, 19-year-old McClain, and his brothers, ages 14 and 16, inside the house between 9:55 p.m. and 11:55 p.m., and charged them with disorderly conduct and obstructing official business, police said.
Three girls from Cleveland Heights, ages 13, 15 and 15 who were in the area were also arrested and charged with violating curfew.
Police are still investigating, and they have not charged anyone for the shooting.
City and landlords seek court action
At Monday night’s City Council meeting, council members passed a resolution to declare the property a nuisance, and authorized abatement, or to remove the nuisance in the property immediately.
Law Director John Gibbon said the residents are a “threat to the safety of the neighborhood.”
The document described the illegal activities police have reported, including assault, disorderly conduct, burglary, theft, unlawful discharge of a firearm(s) and noise disturbances.
“We’re going full guns ahead,” said Mayor Ed Kelley at the meeting. “These are the renters from hell, so we’re working with you to get them out of Cleveland Heights as soon as possible. We’re going to move forward together.”
Wagner said the Sevastopouloses were cooperative, and filed an eviction against the tenants.
“Unfortunately, the first eviction was thrown out on a technicality. There was a defect in the paperwork. So there is a second eviction filed with the hearing date of Oct. 11,” Wagner said. “What we want to do tonight with our nuisance legislation is to try to speed this up.”
The eviction hearing will be held in Cleveland Heights Municipal Court at 10:30 a.m.
Sura Sevastopoulos expressed her frustration in the process at the meeting.
“I have called and talked with the chief of police, Rick Wagner, the law director, I have talked with children’s services. I have told everyone there is no adult, these people need to go, and I’m waiting on a technicality in court,” she said. “And I cannot get any help. Why?”
The legislation passed Monday allowed Gibbon to file a lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of Cleveland Heights against the landlord in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court to abate the nuisance property. The city was also granted a temporary restraining order that will last 14 days to give the landlord more power to keep the tenants off the property.
“The current tenants will only be permitted to obtain their personal property, and the landlord has to be with them,” Gibbon said, adding that the city has offered to send police with them for protection. “They can’t be on the premises for any other purpose.”
Kelley said he is happy with the results of Tuesday’s meeting in court. Employees in the municipal services department will soon hand-deliver 170 to 200 letters to houses on Berkshire, Yorkshire and Cottage Grove from Lee to Washington with the legislation and the results of the court’s decision, he said.
“That type of house or that type of environment is not acceptable in Cleveland Heights,” Kelley said. “The woman with five kids, I know I have five kids, and it’s just not acceptable for her kids to live like that. We’ve got it under control and we’re going to keep it under control.”