Berkeley police have long viewed the B-Town Dollar and More store as a "focal point" and "safe haven" for drug activity on Sacramento Street near Ashby Avenue. According to testimony by police and city staff at the July 17 city council meeting, police have arrested an awful lot of people in and around B-Town since 2003. Gregory Daniel of Berkeley's Code Enforcement Unit told council members that there have been at least 55 documented instances of "drug activity" in front of the store, and employees at B-town have interfered with the police and provided alibis for drug dealers at least thirteen times.
"They see us, they yell 'tabs,' they run right into B-Town," said BPD Sgt. David Lindenau. He told the council that the clerks inside B-Town provided alibis for the three or four people who ran inside, and despite detaining them all and searching the store, the police found nothing that day.
But now the city is about to force B-Town Dollar to close its doors, declaring the business a public nuisance.
Undercover officer Jeff Chu told the council that last February, a confidential informant he works with bought drugs inside of B-Town from the owner's son, no less. Sammy Ayesh and his mother were served with a search warrant, and inside the store police found cocaine residue, as well as razor blades and packaging consistent with selling drugs. The undercover officer told the council that Ayesh admitted to buying a quantity of cocaine and selling it all.
Sammy's father, Nayef Ayesh, who has owned and operated B-Town Dollar since 1984, told the council that neither he nor any of his children have ever violated the law in Berkeley and that his son Sammy only signed the officer's search warrant and confessed to the crime after they threatened to arrest his mother.
"Whatever happens in front of my business I have no control over that," Nayef Ayesh told the council. "I cannot grab an Uzi and start shooting everybody on the sidewalk. I can only ask them to please move. ... I am friends with everybody, everybody that comes, say 'Hi,' I say 'Hi.' They respect us, we respect people, it doesn't mean we have to deal drugs with them."
Nayef Ayesh said that he took his son Sammy out of the store after the February incident, and added that the case never went to trial.
But the elder Ayesh said little to convince the council members not to shut him down, and in the end the overwhelming police testimony was too much to ignore.
Sgt. Randy Files testified that a burglary suspect, fleeing from the cops, was spotted entering the dollar store from the rear. Files knew that the suspect was hiding in a bathroom area behind a locked screen door, and he asked Sammy for the key.
"To say he denied that would be an understatement," Files said. "He vehemently denied us access and did so in a very argumentative way, and a very profane way, told me to exit the store and that he would not comply.
"I explained to him that his compliance wasn't necessary; per the law I had every right to be there and we were in fresh pursuit of a felon and that we would go in there." Eventually the police forced their way into the locked bathroom and took the burglary suspect and Sammy Ayesh off to jail.
The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to close down B-Town, and unless Nayef Ayesh can soon convince a judge to stay the order, the council will finalize the deal at their next meeting on July 31.
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