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Hagerstown police step up patrols in places homeless congregate

A homeless woman reported being assaulted by her homeless boyfriend less than a week after a homeless man was found beaten to death

June 20, 2013|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • The scene where a homeless man was found dead off West Antietam Street in Hagerstown on Saturday was littered with empty alcohol bottles, beer boxes, broken glass and clothing Thursday.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

Hagerstown police have begun to step up patrols in the city’s parks to curb violence among and against homeless people who frequent those areas.

Lt. Tom Langston said the most recent act of violence was reported Thursday morning, when a homeless woman showed up at Meritus Medical Center near Hagerstown. She told law-enforcement authorities that she had been beaten by her homeless boyfriend at City Park.

“She was struck in the face and had injuries consistent with being knocked down,” Langston said.

That case comes less than a week after a homeless man was found apparently beaten to death Saturday on CSX Railroad property near City Park.

Officers responded to the area shortly after 5 p.m. and found 47-year-old Robert Harvey Dunavant lying unresponsive in a wooded area off West Antietam Street.

Police charged David Allen Miller, 38, of 115 Elm St., with causing Dunavant’s death.

Police Chief Mark Holtzman said Thursday that he is concerned about the violence.

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He said officers recently started doing special checks at the city’s parks in the morning, afternoon and after the parks close to make sure no one is drinking alcohol and everything is safe.

The police department also started working with CSX police officers to clean up railroad-owned property where homeless people congregate to get drunk, Holtzman said. He said the drunken behavior often leads to violence.

“That’s our ultimate goal — to remove crime from the area,” he said. “That’s why we’re working with CSX.”
The company confirmed the joint effort.

“CSX is working closely with the City of Hagerstown and with the city police department to address the issues relating to people illegally using railroad property.  CSX, city officials and city police are working to develop and implement a longer-term plan. In the meantime, CSX and the city police are cooperating on efforts to patrol the area,” the company said in an emailed statement from spokesman Bob Sullivan.

Holtzman said city officials also want to join forces with CSX officials to clear weeds on the property and clean up trash.

On Thursday, CSX-owned land at the site of Saturday’s murder was littered with empty alcohol bottles, beer boxes, broken glass, fast-food boxes and clothing.

“We’re trying to solve the recurring problem of drinking on the property .... Hopefully, we’ll see some progress this year,” Holtzman said.

Police respond to about two assault calls per year on the CSX property near City Park that require serious attention, Holtzman said. Those two calls don’t include assaults that aren’t reported.

He said the homeless people in that area — who number from several to about a dozen at any one time — are usually cooperative when police investigate crimes, but they often return when officers tell them to pack up and leave.

“Everyone who goes back there is trespassing,” Holtzman said.

He noted that homeless people aren’t the only ones who congregate near City Park.

Holtzman said people who have a home, such as Miller, go to the area to drink alcohol and socialize.

In Dunavant’s death, he and Miller had argued while they were drinking alcohol in an area known among the homeless population as the “wall,” according to court documents.

Miller was charged with one count each of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, first-degree assault and second-degree assault.

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