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Lawyer: Owner to reopen gas mart shut by Detroit police

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

The owner of a gas station shut down this week following a police raid for drug paraphernalia said he plans to reopen Friday.

“We have reached an agreement with the city of Detroit and we anticipate the station will be reopened (tomorrow) morning,” wrote attorney Troy Otto in an email Thursday. He represents John R. Gas Mart, which operates the Sunoco gas station at Eight Mile and John R.

“My client is grateful for the situation to be resolved and looks forward to a positive relationship with the DPD and the community in the future.”

The Detroit Police Department, however, did not set a timeline for the reopening of the gas station. DPD spokeswoman Sgt. Cassandra Lewis said there have to be further talks at 10 a.m. Friday before she can discuss the issue.

Detroit police shut down the Sunoco station on Wednesday following the raid at the site for drug paraphernalia.

The closure of the gas station came after federal, state and local law enforcement agencies raided locations Tuesday along the Woodward corridor as part of a heroin investigation.

“This is only the beginning ...” Chief James Craig said Wednesday. “This is about making our neighborhoods safe. We can not have any business selling drugs or allowing drugs to be sold or the sale of the paraphernalia, which creates a public safety hazard.”

Police made a dozen arrests Tuesday and recovered firearms and narcotics. At the Sunoco gas station at 15 West Eight Mile on Tuesday police said they recovered 23 brown bags known as “ready kits.” The kits sell for $5 and include a lighter, glass pipe and a piece of Chore Boy scrubber sponge, authorities said.

Police returned Wednesday to shut the gas station down, citing violations of the city’s business licensing code.

Store owner Mike Ajami greeted Craig with a handshake when he entered his store Wednesday afternoon and quickly learned the reason for police chief’s visit.

“We’re not dealing drugs,” Ajami said of the kits. “Is that drugs, sir?”

“No,” Craig answered. “Brown bags. You’re creating a nuisance. It’s a health and safety issue.”

“Why you want to close me down?” Ajami asked. “What did I do?”

Craig told Ajami that he was not being a good neighbor. He presented him with a business closure notice that officers taped to the front door Wednesday afternoon.

Ajami said he wasn’t trying to say selling the brown bags was OK, but no one gave him a warning.

“If people want it, I have to sell it,” Ajami said. “... How do I know what they are using it for?”

Craig said the raids should send a message to other businesses.

Otto said Wednesday the move to shut down the gas station was “without notice and due process as an obvious publicity stunt” by the Detroit Police Department.

“There is zero evidence of any illegal drugs being sold or used at the station,” he said in a statement late Wednesday. “The actions by the DPD are an abuse of process, violations of the Constitution and the city ordinances. Instead of using the city's resources to arrest and prosecute actual drug dealers and users, the DPD has decided to wrongfully target a business owner that pays taxes to the city of Detroit and serves the community.

“All appropriate legal actions will be taken ... to remedy the wrongful actions of the DPD.”

Reached later Wednesday night, Otto said he could request a hearing within 48 hours in an effort to reopen the store under the same city ordinance Craig cited in pursuing the closure. “My No. 1 priority to get him back to business because that’s his livelihood.”

Craig’s take on the city code is “completely outrageous and arbitrary,” Otto said. “I believe it’s an extreme stretch that this was done without notice. ... Under his interpretation, every Home Depot, every department store, or any store that sells a paper bag and a lighter and a tire gauge can be shut down as an immediate threat to public safety.”

cwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2311

Staff writer Mark Hicks contributed.