Closed — for now, at least
Before it was covered with white paint, a blunt message shouted the status of 33 Oak St. One of the building’s apartments was raided Feb. 28, and four people associated with that address remain in federal custody.

Closed — for now, at least

Four suspects face a mounting list of state and federal charges and neighbors hope for lasting relief after local and state police raid a Brattleboro drug house

BRATTLEBORO — When town and state police officers raided apartment 4 at 33 Oak St. on Feb. 28, they arrested the four inhabitants and confiscated the weapons and drugs, based on tips from confidential informants.

For neighbors, it was at least a temporary relief from a nightmare that had been running for almost a year.

The house had been known as an active drug house since last spring, and neighbors had worked together to solve the issue, including neighborhood-watch observation of the traffic in and out of the house along with regular calls to the police, as well as meetings with local town officials and attempts to engage the landlord.

Still visible despite attempts to cover the message, a sign on the side of the house, spray-painted by an angry neighbor, had a blunt message - “drugs sold here” - with an arrow pointing toward the back of the house.

“We, as neighbors, owe a huge thank you to the Brattleboro Police and the State Police,” said Kate O'Connor, who lives just a couple of doors away. “They recognized that there was a problem, and it was their efforts that shut that house down. It would never have ended if they had not intervened. They did a fabulous job.”

O'Connor, the executive director of the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce and the outgoing chair of the Selectboard, described neighborhood efforts as a large factor in supporting the work of the police.

“One of the things we learned from this is that as a neighborhood, we really all worked together to do whatever we could do,” O'Connor said. “We stayed on top of it, we were on alert, at all times, night and day. There were times when it was very scary and very unnerving.”

“Knowing that we were all on the lookout for the neighborhood went a long way,” said O'Connor. “You've got to have a neighborhood that is committed and says it's not going to take it anymore.”

December search raised hopes, but drug activity continued

Police say that the stubborn resilience of drug locations like 33 Oak St. reflects the realities of combatting the complex, ever-changing, and largely hidden underground network of drug activity and associated crime.

Neighbors had similar hopes that 33 Oak St.'s run as a drug house had come to a close only weeks earlier, when town police executed a search warrant for the apartment, based on the statements of Tanya Bukowski, who told officers that she was forced at gunpoint to fight another woman at the apartment, allegedly as punishment over the other woman's $200 drug debt.

Bukowski identified the person who ordered the assault as Chyquan Cupe, also known as “Cash,” according to court filings.

On Dec. 27, police also responded to an incident at the Preston Lot, where Bukowski claimed that Cupe assaulted her through the window of her car.

On the basis of Bukowski's statements, police executed a search warrant for apartment 4. They seized a sawed-off shotgun, a sidearm, and ammunition. They also confiscated a cache of prescription opiates as well as powder and crack cocaine from the apartment in a safe belonging to Cupe.

Four people were in the apartment, but none of them was suspect, who went on the run.

Cupe remained at large until Feb. 6, when Brattleboro police arrested him without incident at Windham District Court, where he appeared in connection with a previous criminal matter.

He has been indicted on a cornucopia of state and federal charges for dealing cocaine, fentanyl, and heroin, stemming from a sale to a confidential informant in a sting last fall by the Vermont Drug Task Force.

After a court appearance on Feb. 22, he was remanded into federal custody, where he has been held without bail, pending a May 27 hearing.

Despite Cupe's disappearance and subsequent apprehension, drug activity continued in apartment 4.

On Feb. 19, police responded to a 911 call about shots being fired there, an incident that lasted about 10 seconds. Before the police got there, the two men who fired the shots had fled.

According to court documents, the four people arrested at 33 Oak St. on Feb. 28 were Francis “Peanut” Macie, 44; Desiree Wells-Cooper, 34; Linda Wainwright, 41; and Juan Sanchez Jr., 20.

Wainwright was charged with selling heroin and fentanyl, and Wells-Cooper was charged with selling fentanyl. Both were detained until their hearings on March 7 and 8, respectively.

Macie was charged for his role in “knowingly” renting, using, and maintaining the apartment at 33 Oak St. for distributing and using heroin, fentanyl, and cocaine base (defined in a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling as crack cocaine, as well as the pure basic form of the drug).

Sanchez, a 2017 graduate of Bellows Falls Union High School, was charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine and crack cocaine. He was also detained until a hearing on March 7.

Macie, Sanchez, and Wells-Cooper will be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Burlington on Thursday, March 14. A continuation of Wainwright's detention hearing takes place Wednesday, March 6.

According to Sanchez's Order of Detention, “Defendant shall participate in a substance abuse assessment through an approved residential treatment facility, and shall inform the court of an admission by appropriate motion.”

In addition to those arrested in the Feb. 28 raid on 33 Oak Street, Chyquan Cupe will also face status conference hearings at the Vermont Superior Court, Windham Criminal Division in Brattleboro for five separate cases on Wednesday, March 8, after which he is expected to be returned to federal custody.

Cupe is represented by Brattleboro attorney Sarah Vangel of Costello, Valente, and Gentry P.C., who was unable to respond to a request for comment before press time.

Among Cupe's state charges:

• eluding a law-enforcement officer, careless or negligent vehicle operation, possession of cocaine, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and escaping the custody of an officer (October 2018);

• simple assault, criminal threatening, and aggravated disorderly conduct (January);

• aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, second-degree unlawful restraint, reckless endangerment, cocaine possession, depressant/stimulant/narcotic possession, and two counts of violation of conditions of release (January);

• simple assault (February);

• three counts of cocaine sales and one count of heroin sales (February).

A history of persistence

Kate O'Connor underscored the importance of the community working together. She described neighbors allying with one another as an essential element in combatting the town's challenges with drugs and crime, and she said that community involvement is a vital factor in helping the police to do their work.

Detective Lieutenant Jeremy Evans cited strong inter-agency communications within the local area and included the Vermont State Police as a strong positive development.

He said that effective coordination within a context of limited resources has been able to make a difference and bring individuals to trial.

Evans added that he had seen a marked increase in gun violence over the past six to eight months, as compared to earlier years.

He said that after so much recent attention, one might think the apartment 4 at 33 Oak St. would draw undue attention from law enforcement and would be undesirable for continued use as a drug house. But Evans also said that the world of drug-dealing and addiction is often exempt from that form of traditional business strategy.

The apartment is vacant now, and a new tenant might well portend a new beginning for the building and the neighborhood.

But there is no screening process beyond a landlord's decision about whether to rent to someone, and the tenant of record in a drug house is often a front for the dealer who controls the place - or becomes one [“Urban drug culture brings a host of 'isolated incidents,'” Special Focus, Feb. 20].

Attempts to reach Robert Remy Powers, the owner of record and the landlord for 33 Oak St., by phone and email were unsuccessful.

According to O'Connor, the neighbors on Oak Street remain intent that the apartment not be reopened as a place where drugs and weapons are stored.

Another apartment on the corner of Central and Thomas streets has been identified in court documents as the site of criminal activity. Chyquan Cupe's first arrest in Vermont took place there in October 2018.

And federal prosecutors have testified at trial that 149 Canal St. is a known site of crack cocaine distribution - a fact that Evans confirmed to be the case since he joined the police force in 1998.

“Sometimes the faces change and the places stay the same,” said Evans. “Sometimes the places change, and the faces stay the same.”

Online bravado

One of the factors behind the denial of bail for his federal charges was a Facebook Live video that Cupe had posted under his screen name, “Krash OrKash.”

BPD officer Joshua Lynde filed in a Jan. 12 affidavit that Cupe had filmed his associate, Pedro Ocasio, as he beat up a man on the streets of Brattleboro. According to Lynde, the video closes with Cupe brandishing weapons and taunting the police.

Other exchanges between Cupe and Sanchez on their respective Facebook pages - all publicly visible - make it clear that they have interacted regularly. Reviewing their respective contacts, it is possible to construct a network of friends and associates locally.

Multiple people familiar with the text-message argot, drug slang, and symbols (emoji) analyzed Cupe's public social-media comments for The Commons.

On Feb. 6, before he was arrested, Cupe publicly posted: “I think ima post a video of me and everyone I love before I go in,” and signed off with two emojis: a raised middle finger, and a police officer.

Cupe's and Sanchez's profile photos are identical: a photo of Cupe in the foreground with Sanchez in the shadows behind him.

Often, interchanges are brief and end with “SB,” a common acronym meaning “Snap back.” That invitation moves the conversation from Facebook or other text-messaging apps to Snapchat.

That texting platform is engineered to erase messages soon after they are exchanged, destroying records of conversations in the process.

One standout crime in Brattleboro this winter remains under investigation: the pistol-whipping of Shyanne Pratt, 19, on Jan. 29 by two men wearing ski masks who invaded her residence on Clark Street.

Pratt was beaten so badly that she was transferred to an out-of-state hospital and was originally expected to have surgery. Friends shared her photo on local Facebook groups at her request.

On Jan. 30, on the Brattleboro Police Department's website, police reassured the public that “at this time, it does not appear that this was a random incident.”

Attempts by The Commons to reach Pratt have been unsuccessful.

Pratt, an honor-roll student and a graduate of Leland & Gray Union High School in Townshend, has not been able to identify her attackers.

Although police have not implicated any of the men in the brutal crime, the public Facebook dialogue strongly suggests that Cupe was warning Pratt to stay quiet about the attack.

Pratt has done just that.

A recent post on a local Facebook group asked “Is there any updates on that poor girl who got pistol whipped in Brattleboro? Did they ever find the 2 men that did that to her?”

In the comment strand, Pratt wrote, “Just because they broke into my house & did this to me doesn't mean there was more to do with it. This stuff may not happen here all the time but this shit happens. There doesn't need to be a reason for it happening honestly.”

“They haven't caught the bad guys yet,” she wrote, “ & they prolly never will.”

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