Team 10 takes crack pipe investigation to city officials

Former city attorney says something can be done

SAN DIEGO - Team 10 Troubleshooter Cristin Severance asked San Diego officials what they're going to do about the stores selling known drug equipment.

On Thursday, the San Diego Police Department released this statement to Team 10:

"The San Diego Police Department encourages the community to report the sale of small glass tubes from businesses as these items are most often used for illegal purposes. The Department recently arrested a local business owner where over 700 glass tubes were seized. All reports of alleged criminal activity are investigated and the tips provided are critical to solving crimes and building criminal cases."

Earlier this week, Team 10 showed former City Attorney Mike Aguirre our undercover crack-pipe investigation, in which teenagers were able to buy crack and meth pipes at the V Outlet discount store in Hillcrest.

"People are not going to feel comfortable going to those types of stores if they know they are selling their children crack cocaine equipment," said Aguirre.

Team 10 members were able to buy the pipes from three other V Outlet discount stores in Pacific Beach, downtown San Diego and Clairemont.

"When our legitimate businesses cross the line and go into providing crack cocaine equipment, that is something we have to take action on," said Aguirre.

Aguirre cracked down on stores for selling these exact items in 2007.

It is illegal to sell the pipes under the California Health and Safety Code.

"The case law is very strong on this, you may not be able to put people in jail but you certainly can bring a civil case against them," said Aguirre. "You can show these people selling this know exactly what they are doing and profiting off of crack cocaine is about as serious as it gets."

It seems city officials aren't so willing to take action this time around. The current San Diego City Attorney's Office would not comment on the story, and earlier this week, SDPD spokesman Lt Kevin Mayer said it's concerning but their hands are tied because the pipes have other uses, like an incense burner or vase.

"Because it has multiple purposes then we can't go in and say it's illegal to purchase that item or sell that item," said Mayer. "So this item in and of itself would not be considered illegal."

Aguirre said he does not agree with that logic and that is not enough of a reason to not do anything about the pipes.

"That's an intentional question, that's an intent question and certainly the kids or people buying these weren't going in there with the idea they were going to burn incense," said Aguirre. "The fact that this kind of equipment can be used for lawful means doesn't mean that's what's happening or that's the intent."

"There's investigative techniques that can be used that this is not being used for incense," added Aguirre.

An outreach counselor for the Palavra Tree Treatment Center, a group that was part of the push for the city to crack down on stores in 2007, said these pipes are used for smoking crack and methamphetamine, and not anything else.

"Aromatherapy ... really? No jasmine, no scented orange blossom; those are crack and meth pipes," said Judy Patterson.

Severance asked Mayer why would the businesses keep something supposedly legal under the counter, and Mayer responded, "I don't know, you'd have to ask the business."

Team 10 called the store twice looking for the owner and then went to the Hillcrest store. The clerk told Team 10 to look under the counter and the pipes were gone.

"Removing that and then denying it was there when you have it on camera that it was there, they themselves are admitting they are doing something wrong," said Aguirre. "If the business think it's wrong then law enforcement should think it's wrong."

Interim Mayor Todd Gloria, who represents the district where the Hillcrest store is located, said something needs to be done.

"It doesn't have a place in our city. It doesn't have a place in my district and it should stop," said Gloria. "There should be some legal remedies but if there isn't that is something council could certainly take action on. There is no place for this particularly for children. We need to be protecting our children better than that."

Team 10 went looking for the owner again to ask them to stop ourselves. The store is registered to "Yea enterprises" with a listed address in Pacific Beach.

Team 10 showed the story to the company's certified public accountant, Teddy Barzilia, who said he would contact the owner.

"If this is real and it looks like it's real then it's an issue," said Barzilia.

Aguirre said the police don't necessarily have to be involved with unlawful, fraudulent or unfair business practices because under California law, the city attorney's office can be involved.

He said the first step is to just ask the businesses to stop selling the pipes, like he did in 2007.

"I think sending a letter and asking them not to do it is a perfectly appropriate thing to do and you may be surprised that they will stop. That they don't want to take the risk," said Aguirre.

Team 10 asked the San Diego City Attorney's Office if they would be willing to send a letter, and they sent this response via email:

"Our office will file a criminal complaint when we have sufficient evidence to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt ... We suggest that people who have information about criminal activity provide that information to the police for investigation."

Aguirre said it says a lot if the city doesn't at least try to do something.

"This basically says is we've given up, we've just given up. We aren't going to stop people from using crack cocaine and we've just given up," said Aguirre.

Team 10 will be following up on this story with city officials and the owner of the stores.

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