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Students Call Drug Raid Surprising : Reaction: Jerry's Place was a popular lunchtime hangout near Glendale High School. Customers are taken aback by allegations that owner Gerald E. Noonan sold cocaine over the counter.

February 20, 1992|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GLENDALE — At lunchtime Tuesday, more than a dozen Glendale High School students trekked across the street to Jerry's Place, a popular hamburger stand whose owner was arrested last week on suspicion of dealing cocaine from behind the counter.

There were no sandwiches served this day. A Closed sign hung in the window, and a metal gate kept the students away from the outdoor tables, where they usually ate fast food and socialized.

Glendale police and campus officials said the raid at Jerry's Place, if it leads to the conviction of owner Gerald E. Noonan, 53, will end a drug-selling scheme that operated alarmingly close to the 2,350-student campus.

"Our information was that if you ordered cocaine, you got it in the bag with your hamburger and french fries," police Lt. Don MacNeil said. "This was an over-the-counter drug business. It's pretty damned scary."

Noonan pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on Wednesday and bail was set at $25,000.

But Tuesday, Noonan's young customers were simply mourning the loss of a popular gathering place. They said they were unaware of any drug dealing at the stand, located at 143 S. Verdugo Road.

"It was a surprise to all of us," Esmy Ramos, 16, said of Noonan's arrest.

"It's not a drug hangout," insisted Gloria Martinez, 17, who attends Glendale High and lives near the fast-food stand. "He never offered us drugs."

Martinez said she was among about 50 students outside Jerry's Place at 1 p.m. Friday when a van pulled up, and police officers stormed into the stand.

"They had guns," Martinez said. "When they asked Jerry to put his hands up, he acted surprised. He didn't know what was going on."

The restaurant owner was charged Tuesday with one count of possession of cocaine with intent to sell. If convicted, he faces up to four years in state prison, Deputy Dist. Atty. Lawrence McGrail said.

Customers described Noonan as a friendly merchant who occasionally became angry at students who loitered at his tables.

"If you weren't buying his food, he'd kick you out," said Edgar Chavez, 16.

But police said they have suspected for years that Noonan has been selling more than sandwiches. As a result of tips linking him to drug sales, Noonan was arrested twice in 1987, MacNeil said.

On the first occasion, officers found cocaine in Noonan's car, but a prosecutor refused to press charges, saying the search was illegal, the lieutenant said.

Later that year, MacNeil said, officers found cocaine in a hidden compartment under Noonan's car. But a jury found him not guilty after the restaurant owner testified that other people had access to the car and that he did not put the drugs there, the lieutenant said.

Last year, officers received new tips that Noonan was selling drugs, police said.

"We began working on a way to obtain a search warrant for his business and his residence," MacNeil said. "We were very concerned about the connection between his business and the students at the high school."

During Friday's raid, officers seized half an ounce of powdered cocaine, a scale and packaging materials, all in a storage area near the front counter. A gram of cocaine sells for $80 to $100 on the street, meaning the seized drugs were worth about $1,400, police said.

Officers did not find any illegal drugs in Noonan's Glendale home, but seized written records that might be linked to drug dealing, MacNeil said.

About 70% of the students at Glendale High have permits, signed by their parents, that allow them to leave campus at lunchtime, Assistant Principal William Wild said.

School administrators have tried to discourage youngsters from going to fast-food stands by offering hamburgers, pizza and music in the school cafeteria. Only about 40% of the students eat out on a typical day, Wild said.

Because it is so close, Jerry's Place has usually attracted students who do not have cars.

Wild said Noonan has called him in the past to break up student fights outside the stand. But the assistant principal said he had no inkling that drug dealing might be taking place there.

"No kid from Glendale High School ever told me anything about that," Wild said. "I don't think it was targeting our students."

Although the quantity of cocaine found at the stand was relatively small, police said, Noonan's arrest was important because his business is so close to the campus.

"I think it's probably one of our more significant street investigations in recent years," said Capt. Mike Post, who formerly supervised the department's drug investigations. "Based on our earlier observations and contacts, we formed a professional belief that he was one of the more significant street distributors in the city of Glendale."

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