Prosecutors have begun to outline their case against the owner of three suspected cocaine "rock houses" by documenting the tight security at the houses and producing testimony that drugs were sold there.
Employees of several security companies testified Wednesday at a preliminary hearing for Jeffrey A. Bryant, 33, of Pacoima that Bryant hired them to install steel doors and window bars on three houses he owns in Pacoima.
On Tuesday, the prosecution's key witness, Antonio King of Pacoima, testified in Van Nuys Municipal Court that he purchased drugs on several occasions at the houses. King also said he saw workers inside the houses preparing cocaine for sale.
Cage of Steel
Police say that rock houses are distinguished by double steel doors that form a cage in which a drug purchaser is virtually trapped while exchanging money and drugs. The purchaser is buzzed in and out of the cage electronically by the house's occupants, police say.
Bryant is the first person in Los Angeles County to be charged with maintaining a building that he knew was being used as a rock house, Marcus said. He is accused of owning three such houses in Pacoima--at 13031 Louvre St., 13037 Louvre St. and 11442 Wheeler Ave.
Law-enforcement officers raided the houses five times in 1984 and early 1985 and arrested occupants. However, Bryant was not present during any of the raids, two of which were conducted with the aid of a controversial battering ram. He is, instead, being prosecuted as the absentee landlord.
The raids netted $32,000 in cash and four pounds of cocaine with an estimated street value of $182,000, Dumelle said.
Prosecutors got a scare Wednesday when King failed to appear in court for scheduled cross-examination by Bryant's attorney, Barry F. Hammond. An unidentified man called the courtroom of Judge Kenneth Lee Chotiner at 9:30 a.m. and reported that King had been in a car accident and would be about an hour late, said Chotiner's clerk, Thomas Melendez.
When King did not appear by the end of the court day, the prosecutor, Stephen A. Marcus, said: "We're obviously very concerned about his safety."
But Marcus reported Wednesday evening that the key witness had been found and was safe. He said King will testify when the preliminary hearing resumes Tuesday and that the case would not be affected. Marcus would not say what had caused King to be out of touch all day.
King is the only witness scheduled to testify that he personally purchased cocaine from Bryant and saw the inside operation of the alleged rock houses, so named because cocaine is processed and sold in them in rocklike clumps. Police have alleged that Bryant is the primary supplier of cocaine in Pacoima.
The court will be closed today and Friday because Chotiner will be attending courses regarding the court's planned computer system. It will be closed again Monday because of the Columbus Day holiday.
Bryant is being held in Los Angeles County Jail in lieu of $300,000 bail.