Prince George's County police yesterday closed down six businesses that they suspect of being houses of prostitution and, in an unusual move, opted to press civil rather than criminal charges against operators and their landlords in order to close the establishments permanently.
Beginning at about 2:30 p.m., dozens of undercover and uniformed officers entered businesses identified as photo studios and health clubs in Landover, Capitol Heights, Takoma Park, Marlow Heights and Beltsville to present employes and customers on the premises with summonses.
"This is a different avenue of prosecution that we're trying," said Capt. Michael Mulligan, who headed the three-month investigation culminating in yesterday's action. "It gives us an opportunity to control the people who actually run and own these institutions."
Circuit Court Judge Albert T. Blackwell Jr. signed temporary injunctions earlier in the day ordering the businesses closed for 10 days and scheduled a full hearing on the matter for July 29.
Dr. Nigel E.R. Jackman, director of community health services for the county, said in a statement filed with the injunction that such establishments foster the passing of communicable diseases such as gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes and AIDS.
"There exists an emergency situation that constitutes an immediate threat to individual human life, property or the public safety" because of the potential of the spread of disease, the injunction said.
Associate County Attorney Joyce Hope said that the county is convinced it will be able to use the civil public nuisance statutes to keep the establishments shut down. The latest interpretation of that law was used to close a private residence in the county that was infested with rats, she said.
At the New Hampshire Photo Studio at 6852 New Hampshire Ave. in Takoma Park, two unidentified women wearing leotards and shorts and working in the storefront offices were given minutes to pack their belongings and leave before police padlocked the doors.
Dennis Sobin, a former D.C. mayoral and school board candidate who operates a string of sexually oriented massage parlors and escort services, also runs this store, alternately known as The Kissing Booth.
On the wall inside, a hand-lettered sign warned: "No refunds. All sales are final." Each of six cubicles in the back of the establishment contained a bed. A photography studio illuminated only by red lights occupied the back of the building.
"They jumped the gun, took the law into their own hands, completely violating several of our constitutional rights," Sobin said yesterday in a telephone interview from Merrick, N.Y.
"This is something that can't be done in America without due process of law. We'll be in court within 48 hours," he said.
The temporary injunction charged that Sobin's business was a "blatant house of ill repute, a bawdy house and a house of lewdness, assignation and prostitution."
All of the establishments that were closed yesterday have been raided by county police on a regular basis since the investigation began in April. The businesses are: Sheila's Foxy I Bath and Health Club at 8444 Ardwick-Ardmore Rd., Landover; Best Entertainment, 8534 Edgeworth Dr., Capitol Heights; Charmaines II Photo Studio, 4740 Clifton Rd., Marlow Heights; Orient, 6425 Aaron La., Clinton; New Hampshire Photo Studio; and J.J.'s Photo Studio, 11100 Baltimore Blvd., Beltsville.
No arrests were made yesterday. police said.
One property owner, Cary Greene, an owner of the Beltsville shopping center where J.J.'s Photo Studio is located, said he was not disturbed by the summons he received.
"Being named is just going to be a legal matter, but I don't think we have any liability," he said. "If they break the law, I'm certainly not responsible."
Corinne Magee, an assistant commonwealth's attorney in Fairfax County, said Fairfax has successfully used licensing law to close eep shows that operated in bookstores on the grounds that solicitation that occurred there was beyond the scope of the establishments' business licenses.