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Washington Street building owner: Other landlords should know


J. Clancy Hopkins was startled when he recently opened up the door of his tenant’s Washington Street apartment.

He found that the first-floor, furnished apartment at 909 Washington St. was covered with biblical quotes and sayings. In every room. On every wall. They were neatly printed in black paint.

“We all almost fainted,” he said while giving a tour of the apartment in his four-unit building.

He figured something was wrong when the tenant, Mark R. Stewart, changed the lock a couple of months ago and would not let have him a copy of the key. The last time he was inside was about two months ago, when Mr. Stewart allowed him only into the living room, Mr. Hopkins said.

The landlord did not notice anything out of the ordinary, but his tenant must have been busy at work after that, he said. Besides the biblical sayings, Mr. Stewart painted the address and other information pertaining to televangelist Jimmy Swaggart’s ministries and the telephone number of the Watertown Police Department.

But he did other damage, Mr. Hopkins said. The top of the living room’s steel radiator was sheared off, the kitchen sink is gone, window and other molding has been stripped and a closet has been ripped apart. Still putting together cost estimates, Mr. Hopkins said he believes it will cost about $25,000 to repair the apartment, although he said insurance will take care of the damage.

To handle the eviction, he called in City Constable Patricia J. Hennegan, who immediately recognized Mr. Stewart’s name.

When she saw the damage, she had a two-word comment for Mr. Hopkins: “You, too?”

That’s when Mr. Hopkins learned that his apartment was not the first. He found it has happened several times over the years — to other landlords and to other apartments.

In her four years as city constable, Mrs. Hennegan has evicted Mr. Stewart several times for the same kind of damage inflicted on other apartments. But the Washington Street apartment might be the worst, she said.

It was an eerie sight.

“I had not seen anything like it in all of my years as constable,” she said.

She noted a rather odd series of signs in the bedroom, where a small leak had occurred from an apartment above. Hanging from the ceiling by string, the first one read, in mostly red lettering, “Warning Flooding Beyond This Point,” and the next one, “No Lifeguard on Duty.” The remainder were “Flooding Ahead,” “Flood Zone” and “Deep Waters.”

Previous landlords know about him. About five years ago, Perry F. McIntosh, who owns 54 units in 11 local buildings, had to evict Mr. Stewart from an apartment on Academy Street because of similar damage he did, the landlord recalled.

For some unknown reason, Mr. Stewart filled in drain pipes under the kitchen sink with cement, causing major plumbing damage, Mr. McIntosh said. Police did not arrest him.

“He’s a halfway decent guy to talk to,” Mr. Stewart said, “other than he’s super religious. Then he gets into all of that.”

Mr. Hopkins said he believes it’s his responsibility to warn other landlords about Mr. Stewart.

But people contacted for this story cannot say why Mr. Stewart behaves in this manner and destroys apartments. He could not be reached for comment; his whereabouts is not known.

A Watertown detective sergeant said Mr. Hopkins filed a police complaint and officers want to talk to him about the damaged apartment.

Mr. Hopkins said he wants to know why he did not find out about his former tenant’s past before he moved in.

The Jefferson County Department of Social Services knew about Mr. Stewart’s past when it placed him in the apartment four months ago, he said. He wonders why he wasn’t told.

While citing confidentiality in talking specifically about Mr. Stewart, Laura C. Cerow, commissioner of the Jefferson County Department of Social Services, said her agency always tries to help homeless clients by finding them a place to live.

And caseworkers cannot tell landlords much about clients with possible mental health issues, she said, “but we don’t mean to lead landlords on.”

If his former tenant needs help, then Mr. Stewart should be able to get help, Mr. Hopkins said.

“I don’t have an ax to grind with the guy,” Mr. Hopkins said.

The situation has opened his eyes about the people who live in Watertown and have fallen through the cracks, he said. As a result of what happened to the apartment, Mr. Hopkins is pushing for community support services for the mentally ill to remain the same at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, Ogdensburg, as the state Office of Mental Health decides its fate.

Mr. Hopkins has written the task force involved in preserving the services there, state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and others to ensure Ogdensburg doesn’t lose any services.

While not talking about the former tenant, Bradley I. Smith, board president of the Mental Health Association in Jefferson County, said the agency is willing to help anyone with mental health issues. Working with the county DSS, the agency has a variety of services and offers referral services to help find appropriate medical services.

on the wall

Here is one of the Psalms in the apartment:

Psalm 41:1-3 (New King James Version) “The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive, And he will be blessed on the earth; You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him on his bed of illness; You will sustain him on his sickbed.”

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