East Winston Oil LLC, the owner of the Liberty Street Citgo gas station, said in court papers that it is not the public safety threat that city officials claim in a nuisance abatement lawsuit filed earlier this year.
City officials alleged in the lawsuit filed on Sept. 15 in Forsyth Superior Court that the gas station has been the site of criminal activity, including three shootings that happened within 15 days and another fatal shooting that happened in June. The gas station is located at 1522 N. Liberty St.
Angela Carmon, the city attorney, and Lori Sykes, an assistant city attorney, also named as defendants Truliant Federal Credit Union, Kelly Blue LLC, Shafic A. Andraos and his wife, Grace M. Andraos, because they are the beneficiaries of the property.
The lawsuit is seeking several things, including a temporary restraining order to prevent the gas station from operating. The lawsuit also wants a judge to issue a permanent injunction that would force the business to take steps to secure the property. And the lawsuit seeks to force East Winston Oil LLC to forfeit its property to the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education.
Joshua Bennett and Jasmine Pitt, attorneys for East Winston Oil, filed a written answer to the lawsuit on Nov. 19 in Forsyth Superior Court. They deny the allegations and allege that the gas station is not responsible for criminal activity near its property.
Specifically, they argue that the nuisance activities that the city has complained about in the lawsuit did not happen at the gas station. Bennett also argued that whatever nuisance activities that the city is complaining about was out of the control of the gas station's owner.
"The acts and conduct complained of herein were committed by third-parties over whom this Defendant lacked control and/or supervision," Bennett said in court papers.
Bennett also said East Winston Oil LLC has "made good faith efforts to stop the complained of conduct." Those actions, Bennett said, include hiring security guards, buying and installing security cameras, erecting a fence and placing "no trespassing" signs."
The gas station's owner also has tried to work with law enforcement agencies.
"The alleged 'nuisance' complained is not the result of any act, conduct or behavior by this Defendant," Bennett said. "Consequently, seizure of this Defendant's property will not solve or abate any 'nuisance' complained of."
Kristy Andraos, an attorney, filed a written answer on behalf of Kelly Blue LLC and Shafic and Grace M. Andraos on Oct. 15 denying the lawsuit's allegations.
Sykes said she could not comment because the litigation is pending.
According to the lawsuit, Winston-Salem police responded to 452 calls for service at the gas station from Jan. 1 to Aug. 28. Those calls required police officers to spend more than 642 manhours at the gas station, the lawsuit alleged.
The city also has accused the gas station of employing people who contributed to the fights and disturbances at the gas station. Local residents have feared for their safety because of the fights, assaults, gunfire and illegal drug sales at the gas station, the lawsuit said.
On June 27, Marcus Jerome Reid, 38, was found shot to death on North Liberty Street after shots were fired at the gas station. Police found Reid's body at 2 a.m. that day, and officers have charged Jermaine Lamont Webster, 30, of Claremont Avenue, with murder in Reid's death.
Mohamed Elmahdy, the president of East Winston Oil and the gas station's owner, and Amro Elsayed, the gas station's manager, told the Winston-Salem Journal in August that they had taken steps to reduce violent crime at the gas station, including hiring a security company. The gas station also has provided police video surveillance footage of suspects committing crimes there, mostly in the parking lot.
The city alleges in the lawsuit that the gas station "has been operated in a manner as to make it dangerous, disgraceful, intolerable for the residents living nearby, businesses operating in the vicinity, first responders reporting to calls for service ... and the general public."
East Winston Oil does admit that it did fail to reduce hours of operation but denies that it failed to develop a comprehensive security plan, according to court papers. Bennett and Pitt also acknowledge that the gas station owner did not meet with neighborhood associations after receiving a letter in July.
"However, it is denied that this Defendant did not work to provide additional security and other measures after its receipt of the July Letter," Bennett and Pitt said in court papers.
Elmahdy said in a letter to Carmon on Sept. 3 before the lawsuit was filed that any legal action the city filed against his business would be arbitrary and frivolous. He also said that the city's motivation might be considered racially biased. Elmahdy is an Arab American.
Carmon has denied allegations that the lawsuit is based upon race or any form of discrimination.
The city has filed similar nuisance abatement actions against other local businesses, including the Budget Inn on Silas Creek Parkway. The city has a pending nuisance abatement lawsuit against Rolling Hill Apartments in eastern Winston-Salem.