WOBURN - In a scathing rebuke of the homeowners, Ward 2 Alderman Richard Gately vowed to leverage the full breadth of the city's public nuisance powers to protect terrified neighbors in the wake of a shooting near 15 Highland St.
During the most recent gathering of the City Council, Gately told his colleagues that South End residents by Green Street are afraid to sit outside in their yards after gunfire shattered their already tenuous sense of safety earlier this winter.
According to the Ward 2 alderman, who initiated public nuisance proceedings against 15 Highland Street homeowners Deoram and Savita Ramotar, the City Council has an obligation to intervene in what has now apparently become a life-or-death issue for abutters.
"I have two letters here from the neighbors. One is afraid to come in here and speak, because she thinks they'll be repercussions. The other is from a gentleman who had a bullet fragment come through his house [during this winter's shooting]," said Gately.
Ultimately, the full council, noting that the neighborhood has been calm since last February's incident, stopped short of declaring the single-family property a public nuisance. Instead, the aldermen, ordering the Highland Street landlords to "clean up their act", agreed to refer all future neighborhood complaints to its Liaison Committee.
The council also agreed to revisit the matter in July, when Gately pledged to follow-through with the public nuisance declaration, if the situation hasn't improved.
Typically, the council uses its public nuisance powers as leverage to convince landlords into making improvements at rundown properties or addressing other neighborhood complaints. If attempts at mediation fail, the council — by formally declaring a house a public nuisance — retains the authority to order cleanup operations at the homeowner's expense.
In extreme circumstances, the city officials have also ordered problem properties razed to the ground.
During the public hearing, several neighbors insisted that they had regularly approached the Ramotar family in an attempt to address a litany of issues prior to the shooting, including:
• The late-night gathering of boisterous house guests on area streets and sidewalks, where people were tossing trash and cigarette butts onto neighbors front yards;
• The blasting of loud music from idling vehicles;
• A constant stream of car and foot traffic, apparently visiting the homeowners' relatives, during odd hours.
However, since the violence broke out at around midnight on Saturday, Feb. 16, many area residents are now living in fear.
"I was outside in my yard. He shot at him six times, and the sixth shot, [fired when the gunman turned], went right into my bedroom where my wife was sleeping," said one neighbor. "Now we're afraid to sit out by our yard. Every imd someone pulls up to my property, we're worried about what's going on."
Somewhat defensive, members of the Ramotar family at the recent hearing denied direct responsibility for the shooting last February, when local police say a 43-year-old man was twice shot in the legs during an alleged altercation over a $10 debt.
The victim was apparently part of a crowd of people who are regularly invited over by a relative of the homeowners. Two men, including 28-year-old Dorchester resident Asa Cooper, were subsequently arrested and charged for the shooting, which happened at approximately midnight on Saturday, Feb. 16.
Savita Ramotar also insisted she had tried to address complaints about discarded cigarette butts. She further claimed that neighbors were mischaracterizing the severity of the loud music complaints, which had twice resulted in calls to police.
"We've been here for 13 years. If you want to be neighbors, you have to come out and mingle. When we have parties, no one comes and stops by. It feels like we weren't welcomed in this neighborhood in the first place," she said.
City Council President Michael Anderson disputed the notion that area abutters were acting in bad faith and contended the neighbors had valid reasons to lodge complaints.
Far less diplomatic in his response, Gately, promising to bring down the "full weight of the council" should the neighborhood atmosphere not improve, later made it clear that the nuisance proceedings were about far more than a little litter.
"If you're getting the gist of what's going on here, this isn't about cigarette butts. It's about people coming up to your house day after day and night after night. It's about loud music and gunshots…All of your neighbors are afraid of you, and they have every right to be," the alderman responded.
"These people, who pay taxes on their property just like you do, have every right to sit outside without having to worry about whether a gangbanger is going to come by and shoot holes in them. You have to straighten out your act…Consider yourselves warned," he continued.