The Amity Gardens Apartments complex never did live up to its name.
A year ago, when a Germantown man standing in the parking lot was gunned down gangland-style from a passing car, county-wide attention was drawn to the violence, vandalism and drug trafficking that had long concerned area residents.
Nearly 100 persons witnessed the shooting, but Montgomery County law enforcement officials had difficulty finding anyone who could identify the gunmen. Chester Allan Mowell, who had been charged with murder in the death of Andre Prather, was acquitted Thursday.
William T. Duvall, a fourth-generation Emory Grove resident and president of the Greater Emory Grove Citizens Advisory Committee, said, "I don't think anybody even saw what happened."
Mowell, who had been arrested for driving while intoxicated, was charged after Richard Hubbard, an inmate at the County Detention Center who met Mowell there, told police Mowell had confessed to him. Hubbard was the only witness to testify against Mowell.
"I talked to some of the jurors afterward," said Assistant State's Attorney David Boynton, "and they indicated they were reluctant to convict Mowell of murder based on the testimony" of an inmate.
Prather's slaying last Oct. 27 was the third shooting in a month at the federally assisted housing project in Emory Grove, which had a reputation as one of the busiest and broadest drug markets in the county. Neither the slaying nor the "special attention" of Montgomery County police succeeded in easing the problems at Amity Gardens.
Finally in July, after two major fires at the apartments, both apparently the work of arsonists, residents demanded that county officials take over the dilapidated 50-unit complex. In August, the county Housing Opportunities Commission agreed to buy out the project. The last tenants moved out at the end of September.
HOC Director Richard Ferrara said he didn't think the outcome of the Mowell trial would have much effect on the future of the apartments, which will be renovated.
"The people who left Amity Gardens were pretty disgusted," Ferrara said.
Ferrara said authorities hoped to have the apartments, renamed Camp Hill Square, ready for occupancy next spring, and said on-site management would help prevent the kind of vandalism and disrepair that plagued the complex.
But the closing of the Amity Gardens parking lot has not slowed the drug traffic, according to neighbors and local authorities, who say the dealers have moved next door to Emory Grove Village on Morningview Drive.
"The drug activity is still there," said Barry Collier, a Montgomery County police detective. "If there's been any decline at all, it's only because the population is slightly less."
"It's the same problems in a different place . . . mostly on weekends," said Duvall.