Catch and release on Edgewood Avenue

A police mix-up bugs the burgled

Woody Trend doesn't look like the stereotypical nosey neighbor. Wiry, tanned and intense, he's more Tony Hawk than Gladys Kravitz.

Trend, a mosaic artist and photographer, has worked and lived for five years in a studio on Edgewood Avenue in the Old Fourth Ward. He likes the neighborhood's slightly rundown feel.

"That's what's cool about Edgewood," he says. Little Five Points and East Atlanta: too yuppie for him.

Trend says he has no problem with the men frequently seen loitering on Edgewood between Boulevard and the Downtown Connector overpass.

He's never called police to report any illegal or suspicious activities in his neighborhood. "I don't want to get people in trouble," he says. At least, he didn't until June 1.

Trend was walking his dog through an alley just steps from his front door when he says he noticed the metal door to Cynthia Smith's antique and rummage shop was open. Trend suspected something was wrong. Smith – his oldest friend in the neighborhood – has been in Atlanta Medical Center since March with a heart ailment. No one was supposed to be inside the store.

Then Trend noticed the door was broken. "Someone worked it with a crow bar," he says.

He went next door, to the restaurant and lounge Over Da Edge, and asked manager Omar King to accompany him before he investigated further.

"We all knew Smith was sick and wasn't there," King says. "We went to see if the place was vandalized."

Inside, Trend and King both say they discovered a man they recognized from the neighborhood as Sylvester Holland. Trend, King, Smith and three other neighbors describe Holland as a street person who sometimes does odd jobs for area business owners.

Atlanta Police Lt. Wayne Whitmire, whose Zone 5 precinct includes the Edgewood corridor, describes Holland slightly differently: "Sylvester Holland is, without a doubt, a troublemaker."

According to Georgia Department of Corrections records, Holland served two months in state prison last year for a burglary committed in 2004.

Trend and King say they made Holland leave Smith's store, then called 911. Trend says the store looked ransacked and there was a pile of goods next to the back door that he believed was part of the store's inventory – as well as tools Trend thinks could have been used to pry open the door.

Both men say they informed police that Holland was the person they saw inside the store and that the store's proprietor was in the hospital. Nevertheless, police didn't gather physical evidence, follow up with a call to Smith or even file an incident report.

Whitmire declined to identify the officer who responded to the incident, but said he confirmed most of Trend's and King's account. He says the responding officer didn't summon the burglary unit because he believed the building was derelict and that homeless people had been using it as shelter for some time.

In fact, the building has two active tenants: Smith's store and the Atlanta Model Railroad club, which owns the building and keeps its headquarters, with a massive collection of model trains and accessories, on the second floor. The group meets there every Monday.

Whitmire also says the officer who responded was never told Smith's name and therefore had no way of contacting her. Without talking to a victim to confirm whether Holland's presence in the building was authorized, or to confirm whether items were missing, it would have been difficult to investigate the incident as anything more serious than trespassing.

That makes Trend livid. He insists he gave the officer Smith's name and her number. Smith says police never contacted her. The officer left, Trend says, without even securing the door.

Compounding Trend's and his neighbor's frustration is what happened next.

Shortly after police left, Trend says he saw Holland near a convenience store on Boulevard. He summoned a passing squad car and says he identified Holland as the man he saw inside Smith's shop earlier that day. Trend has photos of the officer patting down Holland. Trend photographed the incident and says he taunted Holland.

"I was yelling at him, 'You motherfucker, we don't rob old ladies here," he says. He made copies of the photos and distributed them to area businesses. But the officer didn't make an arrest.

"What legitimate charge is there at that point?" Whitmire responds. "He ran Holland's name on the computer – no warrants."

Six days later, though, Holland was finally arrested. He was charged with burglarizing a barbershop twice – once on June 1, the same evening police caught him and let him go, and again two days later. He also was charged with possession of tools to commit a crime. The barbershop is five doors down from Smith's shop.

"I think they should have put his butt in jail when they had him the first time," says Leslie Jordan, who's operated the barbershop on Edgewood for 30 years.

Whitmire says neighbors who think police should have arrested Holland the first time should realize "it's not cut and dry."

"I don't see that the officer violated any procedures or anything," he says. "No matter what you do on a case, there's always something more you can do."

He stressed that Smith still could file a complaint once she gets back to her store.

Bob Constanza, who owns Edgewood Avenue Pizzeria, argues that the incident exemplifies how police neglect of the Edgewood corridor is damaging the street's businesses.

"People are scared to come out here between 7 p.m. and midnight," he says. "I can't make money with all this bullshit going on."

According to police, crime is up 14 percent so far this year – driven largely by spikes in burglaries and thefts. Citywide, burglary is up 16 percent so far this year; in Zone 5, it's 36 percent.

Constanza is confident that the neighborhood will improve in time, but has given up hope that the city will help. He and other neighbors plan to start collecting money from local businesses to hire off-duty police to patrol the street.

Constanza says city budget problems don't excuse what neighbors describe as the area's chronic under-policing.

"We can probably help the city with the budget," he says, "if we start making money on Edgewood Avenue."

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