Prince George's County fire officials have ordered the director of the Save the Seed drug treatment program to drastically reduce the number of people living in his Fort Washington home.
As many as 54 people have lived in the split-level house on Taylor Avenue, where the program operates. Many of these people had been sent to Save the Seed for drug treatment as a condition of their probation by judges in Prince George's County and the District.
Capt. James Tauber said fire officials ordered the Rev. Robert "Shine" Freeman, director of Save the Seed, to allow no more than 12 people to live in his 1,150-square-foot house.
"We notified the judges so that the courts wouldn't keep sending people there," Tauber said. "For all intents and purposes, the program is now closed to the courts because they can't accept any more people without getting rid of some that they have."
Freeman declined to comment yesterday on the Fire Department's order.
State health officials have launched an investigation of Save the Seed, which is not licensed or certified as a drug treatment program.
Maryland law requires drug treatment programs to be certified by the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and imposes a fine of up to $10,000 against those that operate without a license.
Freeman has said in interviews with The Washington Post that he is treating sin and so does not need to be licensed by the state.
Charles Alexander, director of the health department's Division of Licensing and Certification, said that his office and the state Attorney General's Office are trying to determine whether the program has violated state law or is exempt because of its religious affiliation.
"From what we know of the program, there is no way that they could be certified," he said.
Freeman has said that program's participants were "detoxed by the word of God" with 10- to 12-hour Bible study sessions. Freeman, a former drug addict, convicted thief and police informer with no formal religious training, also said that he used exorcism to rid the drug addicts of "demons." He also said that on occasion he has struck people to maintain control.
In interviews earlier this summer, program participants lavishly praised Freeman, repeatedly saying he had saved them and that he ministered to their souls. Several former participants voiced conflicting feelings, praising Save the Seed while criticizing Freeman.
Save the Seed has been financed by the Full Gospel A.M.E. Zion Church in Temple Hills and does not charge participants. Representatives of the church have declined requests for interviews.
Tauber said that fire inspectors found 39 people living at the house, including several who were sleeping on mattresses in the furnace room in violation of fire codes. Fire inspectors also found many other fire code violations, including no smoke detectors, fire extinguishers or alarms. These violations, Tauber said, were corrected.
Tauber said inspectors are visiting the program daily and at odd hours to ensure that Freeman is complying with the 12-person limit.
Tauber said that several program participants simply were "sent home." Lorenzo Stancil, a participant who was ordered into Save the Seed as a condition of his probation, notified his probation officer last week that the program had been closed at 4 p.m. Aug. 13, sources said. He was then placed in a "Narcotics Anonymous-type" program, sources said. Several Prince George's County judges said that they had received a memorandum from County Circuit Court Administrator Suzanne James informing them of the fire code violations.
District probation officials had issued a memorandum earlier citing problems with Save the Seed and recommending against additional placements there. The D.C. probation division recently sent judges a second memorandum after learning that representatives of Save the Seed had used the name New Life for Youth to refer to their Fort Washington program. New Life for Youth is a recognized drug treatment program in Virginia and has no connection to the program in Fort Washington, sources said.