By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — The inner-city Portland Street Playground is a place neighbors have vowed to protect.
They plan to rebuild it so neighborhood children who play there have a safe place to go.
So police say it was “brazen’’ that two people chose that location to make a drug deal, and fitting that a tip from the public allowed officers to make arrests.
Now, a Haverhill man and a Lawrence woman face charges — including trying to sell drugs near a playground.
“It’s brazen that the two chose to make a drug transaction in front of a playground,” said police Deputy Chief Donald Thompson. “Neighbors are concerned about that playground and Team Haverhill and other groups are working with the city to improve it.”
The playground was the site of a public school until the building was demolished decades ago. Over the years, several groups have adopted the playground and cleaned it, but it fell into disrepair and has become difficult to maintain.
Earlier this year, Alice Mann, president of Team Haverhill, said her volunteer organization plans to lead an effort to rebuild the playground and has recruited neighbors to help.
Children still play there despite the rough conditions, so police said they were happy to be able to make the drug arrests — a warning that they will aggressively protect the area.
Thompson said that on Monday about 6 p.m., the narcotics unit received information that a drug deal was to happen near the playground, located on the section of Portland Street between 4th and 5th avenues.
Thompson said detectives set up surveillance in the area and observed a white Honda Civic driven by a woman. A man was a passenger in the car, Thompson said.
Members of the narcotics unit watched the couple stop their car and a woman enter it and then quickly get out, police said.
Detectives in unmarked vehicles stopped the Honda at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Main Street and arrested the couple on charges of distribution of cocaine. Police charged Giovanni DeLeon, 37, 78 Bellevue Ave., second floor, with distribution of cocaine, conspiracy to violate the drug laws and a park/school zone violation. Police brought the same charges against the driver, Marie Zayas, 28, of 153 Beacon Ave., Lawrence.
Thompson said detectives seized $110 from DeLeon in the stop.
After the Honda was stopped, the narcotics unit obtained a search warrant for DeLeon’s home, where they found about 13 grams of cocaine with an estimated street value of $1,100, Thompson said.
He said detectives seized about one gram of cocaine from the female buyer. As of yesterday, police had not brought any charges against that woman, but Thompson said the investigation continues.
DeLeon and Zayas were arraigned on the charges yesterday in Haverhill District Court.
According to the Essex District Attorney’s Office, bail for DeLeon was set at $10,000 while Zayas was released on personal recognizance. Both must return to court Sept. 16 for pretrial hearings.
Police said this and other recent arrests of drug dealers who drive around the city and meet up with their customers have been made possible through the assistance of residents who report suspicious activity to police.
“There have been several drug arrests made in the last several weeks and a lot of this is the result of information the narcotics unit received from the public,” Thompson said.