On July 15, almost every tenant at the Ocean Apartments in Atlantic Beach will have to leave. Granddads, working men, mothers, little girls and teens will all be forced out.
The property is being closed due to a nuisance action brought on by the town of Atlantic Beach with the help of the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office after a drug bust in the fall of 2018.
But multiple residents dispute the claims being made in the consent order to shut down the building, saying that most of the people who were arrested did not live there.
Rodger Gamble, the maintenance guy — according to some, the property manager – was accused of letting the drug sales happen, an accusation that he denies.
“It’s not true. I wasn’t charged,” said Gamble, a handyman who hasn’t found work for three weeks since being named in court documents. “That’s hard being a black man trying to get work done. It’s not only affecting us by not having a place to go, it’s affecting our pockets, so we can’t move. So what’s going to happen? That’s something that needs to be looked at.”
The consent order details several drug sales in the fall of 2018, and says confidential informants purchased crack cocaine from four of the 10 units in the building. On Nov. 14, 2018, officers with Horry County Police and the Drug Enforcement Administration executed search warrants on those four units, and recovered more than two pounds of marijuana, 50 grams of crack cocaine, 18 grams of cocaine, 20 hydrocodone pills and three handguns, one of which was reported stolen, according to court documents.
In April and May of 2019, the consent order says officers again purchased cocaine from people in the apartments.
“There’s a right way to do things and there’s a wrong way to do things,” said resident Chris Drumgoole. “To make a bunch of good people up and relocate because of a few bad apples is senseless and it’s wrong. It’s just wrong. They never took any steps to deter the problem.
“The people they arrested were the people that were dealing the drugs. We thank them for that. But now enough’s enough.”
Some residents believe their apartment building has been targeted because a decrease in the building’s value would benefit adjacent property owners if they wanted to buy it.
Land records show the families of Mayor Jake Evans and his mother Earlene Woods own multiple businesses and plats of land south of, and across the street from the Ocean Apartments. Evans denies that his family wants to buy the property.
“You can’t put people out to the street,” Gamble added. “This is America. It’s all about control and power from the Woods and the Evans. It’s coming from them and what they want. And they’re winning right now.”
Security guard James Clark and his fiancé, Candace Cole, are the only residents allowed to stay in the building while the owner is prevented from renting to tenants for a year.
“I don’t like it,” Cole said. “All the garbage had already been kicked out. The people who are here are not the troublemakers. They’ve already gotten rid of the ones that were the problems. The ones that are getting kicked out now, they’re not the problem. They’re good people here. They deserve to have a home, they deserve to have a place to live. There’s a lot of kids here who need their homes.”
A resident for almost seven years, Cole has seen the place in much worse shape.
“I know what it was like then, and I know what it’s like now,” Cole said. “It’s better now and they’re doing the wrong thing now by shutting it down now because they’re getting rid of the good people that are getting here now and they’re opening it up so that when it does reopen in a year, they’re going to let all the trash back in.”
Evans, the mayor, said he hasn’t been to the building to talk to the residents who still live there.
“I don’t even know who still lives there now,” he said. “If you are living in a 10-apartment building and you’ve got two or three people dealing drugs and you know that, why would you want to live there?”
Evans questioned what Gamble was doing as the manager of the Ocean Apartments.
“I manage this,” Evans said of his club, Black Magic. “If somebody sells drugs out of anywhere here, I know it. And guess what? They’re out of here. So the guy managing the place down there, what’s he doing?”
What Gamble was doing, according to Cole, was kicking out the drug users whenever he could.
“People coming up trying to buy stuff, he was the first one telling people to leave the property, trying to get anything or do anything like that, he was the first one that would say, ‘No, you need to leave, you need to get off the property,’” Cole said. “There were several times I would be out here and he would be kicking them off the property.”
Of the at least 11 people arrested following the Nov.14 bust, only three of them had Atlantic Beach addresses, according to jail records.
“I don’t doubt that at all, but when we close down a business of stabbings and stuff, they don’t live there either,” said Solicitor Jimmy Richardson. “It’s up to the landowner and the business-owner to make sure it doesn’t happen. It’s never meant to be a punishment for people. That’s not what we’re trying to combat, whether they’re residents or not residents. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if the bad actors were from out of town.”
Richardson said the nuisance action is to encourage business owners to combat any sort of bad activity that happens on their property.
“This isn’t a silver bullet and is not an end-all be-all to the drug problem at all,” Richardson said. “No one’s believing this is going to end all drug sales in and around Atlantic Beach.”
But the consent order is making life difficult for residents.
Both Drumgoole and Gamble are worried about scraping together enough money for the move.
And Dwayne McCallum may have to leave his job at Baywatch because he can’t find another place close by that he can afford.
“We’re getting kicked out because they [did] an operation and found people doing drugs,” McCallum said. “But I wasn’t doing that, so I don’t see why they’re kicking out everybody. It’s a lot, because I have to move from my work, my job at Baywatch, and I can’t find a place close by. I have to change jobs, change everything.”
Gamble would love to stay, but time is running out. By July 15, he may have to leave.
“There’s a God,” Gamble said. “And I’m quite sure he’s not going to leave all us out here without no place to go, without being heard.”