RNC say fire on Tessier Place Tuesday night 'suspicious'

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary says a small fire at a house that's at the centre of a murder investigation has been deemed to be suspicious.
Neighbours say they have complained about criminal activity at 8 Tessier Place for two years. (CBC)

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary said a fire at a house that's at the centre of a murder investigation is suspicious.

Firefighters were called to 8 Tessier Place in St. John's around 9:30 Tuesday night. No one was living in the house at the time.

Const. Talia Murphy said it's too early to tell if the fire is connected to the murder investigation. However, she said there was no evidence left to destroy.

"The RNC was no longer holding the residence at the time of the fire," said Murphy. "It was no longer a crime scene for us at that point, it had already been released."

The house is the centre of neighbourhood anger.

A resident of Tessier Place said it took a murder on his street for police and city officials to pay some attention to problems with criminal activity in his downtown St. John's neighbourhood. 

Neil Head has lived on Tessier Place for eight years. (CBC )

Neil Head, who has lived on the street for eight years, said for the past two years, residents had told the police, city officials, and the property's manager that 8 Tessier Place was a drug house. 

"No one came, no showed up, nothing was done about it until this guy was eventually killed, really, last week," said Head. "So we're very relieved."

Tuesday night's fire was quickly extinguished, and is the latest incident involving the controversial property, which neighbours have told CBC has been long involved with criminal activity.

Kenny Green, 34, of Mount Pearl, was charged Tuesday with second-degree murder in the death of Joey Whalen, 47. Whalen died on Sunday of injuries he sustained during a violent beating at the house last Wednesday. 

In an open letter to the media, Tessier Place residents said they want to make landlords more accountable, so if residents report a drug house has set up in the neighbourhood, someone, whether it be city officials or the police, will deal with the problem. 

Police aware of house

Robert Johnston, the chief of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, said police received 19 complaints of suspicious vehicles, disorderly conduct, fighting, drugs, and prostitution at 8 Tessier Place over the past 12 months, and on several occasions, police laid criminal charges.

RNC chief Robert Johnston says police had been called to 8 Tessier Place multiple times over the past year. (CBC )

Johnston added that police have fielded 140 calls for service from the broader neighbourhood, extending to Livingstone Street, over the past year.

He said the reasons behind the disturbances are complicated.

"We're dealing with people with mental health issues, we're dealing with people with substance abuse. The culmination of these factors creates some criminal activity," said Johnston.

Johnston said that the police lay charges as laws and constitutional rights permit, but police need to work with community groups in order to put a stop to the dangerous behaviours. 

"So it's important that we have this conversation and look at ways to eliminate this criminal activity from the community," he said.

City limited in its powers

St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe said the city is limited in dealing with property violations at problem residences. 

"We have inspectors that go out, but they are not a police force," said O'Keefe.

"So they're not able, they're not capable, and they're not supposed to deal with criminal activity. But they are instructed, if witnessing such activity, to immediately contact the RNC."

Head said he's willing to work with the police and city officials to try to clean up Tessier Place. 

"If community and people pull together on this it might set some fear in [the criminals] because they won't have the privacy and won't be able to hide because they know they're being watched," he said.

Tessier Place residents, city officials and the police are meeting privately on Friday to talk about what they can do to make the neighbourhood a safer place.