I-Team: A bold new way to fight heroin showing promise

The FOX 5 I-Team first reported in June how local and federal authorities combined with the English Avenue neighborhood to give suspected heroin dealers one last chance to turn their lives around. They invited 18 people to a church meeting, men and women identified by authorities and neighbors as low level dealers worth a second chance. Then told them they'd help find jobs, education, rehab if they'd promise to stop supporting the evil affecting their community. It was, they were told over and over, the deal of a lifetime.

"You know the boundary -- drug dealing is now off limits in English Avenue," said ATF Atlanta special agent in charge Carl Walker. "Understood right? Because if not, you will now be faced with federal charges. Period. End of story."

Of the 18 people invited, 15 ultimately showed up at Lindsey Street Baptist Church to hear the offer. So far, the feds say only one, 18-year-old Jatorrian Henderson, went back to dealing on the streets. He's now in federal custody, under indictment for selling heroin.

"We said if you do that, we're going to find you and we're going to arrest you," said acting US Attorney John Horn. "And we've lived up to that promise. I think it sends the right message."

He said a handful of the 14 others are still involved in the program. The rest have either moved out of the neighborhood or have decided to stay away from dealing without taking advantage of the services offered.

"The energy in the neighborhood is much slower," observed state representative Able Mable Thomas, a longtime resident of English Avenue. "And it's an energy of people who know something is happening. The word has gone around."

Similar Drug Market Interventions have worked around the country, although not on the large scale being attempted in English Avenue. No one here expects dramatic changes overnight. Just last week an 81-year-old woman died from a gunshot while sitting on her porch.

City inspectors struggle to force property owners to fix up or tear down abandoned buildings that can serve as breeding ground for more crime. But for the moment, a troubled neighborhood can finally take a deep breath and keep an eye open for future troublemakers.

"What we're trying to to do is make sure nobody falls through the cracks just because they didn't get locked up again but they're around in the neighborhood trying to figure out what to do next," said representative Thomas.