City closes West Side apartment that was site of fatal shooting and alleged drug operation

Eric Lagatta
The Columbus Dispatch
The apartment unit at 641 Racine Ave. at the intersection with Whitehead Road on the West Side was shuttered Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. The Columbus City Attorney's office obtained a temporary restraining order designating the unit -- one of four in an apartment building -- a nuisance for drug trafficking, prostitution and other crimes.

A West Side apartment unit that was the scene of a fatal shooting and which two law enforcement agencies identified as the center of a drug and prostitution ring has been emptied and boarded up.

Columbus police evacuated 641 Racine Ave. at Whitehead Road on Tuesday after Franklin County Environmental Court issued an emergency court order to clear and shutter the premises.

The apartment unit will remain closed at least until an April 19 court hearing.

Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein's office sought the temporary injunction following a fatal shooting and after separate undercover narcotics investigations by Columbus police and the Franklin County Sheriff’s office at the residence — one of four apartment units in the building — determined it was a drug trafficking operation.

Ricky Rittenberry, 60, of South Linden was mortally wounded at the residence on Dec. 1 and died 15 days later, Columbus police said. Henry Borges, 36, of Reynoldsburg, has been indicted on a murder charge for Rittenberry's death.

In a news release, Klein expressed pride that the city was able to only close the nuisance apartment unit, the south end unit nearest Whitehead Road, rather than the entire building.

“In this instance, we were laser focused and targeted the single unit involved in criminal conduct," Klein said in the release. "Shutting down the entire building could have resulted in the displacement of innocent people. It’s important that we focus on neighborhood safety for all residents.”

The property first came to the attention of Columbus narcotics detectives in August 2019 after patrol officers responded to a drug overdose there. After that, officers were dispatched to the premises 33 times throughout the remainder of that year on reports of drug trafficking, prostitution, assault, burglary and other disturbances.

The issues persisted throughout 2020, with police investigating reports of drug trafficking, suspicious people and shootings. One recent complaint on Dec. 21 alleged that 641 Racine Ave. remained a drug trafficking operation where needles and guns were “left out everywhere.”

Officers were told that a 2-year-old had eaten a powerful anti-depressant and was unconscious for 16 hours, the release stated.