After listening to testimony from a number of Denton merchants and residents last month, a Denton Regional Court judge appeared ready to order River Street panhandler Anthony Russell into a drug rehabilitation program.

At a January 14 hearing at the Hall of Justice, Russell admitted violating his probation on a prior conviction for possession of narcotics.

But as the court session ended, it was still up in the air whether Russell would go to prison or get court-imposed help for his heroin addiction.

During the hearing, Judge Christopher Bridges rejected outright a recommendation from Russell’ probation officer that Russell can serve two years in county jail. Calling that sentence a mere “slap on the wrist,” the judge indicated that Russell would be spared a lengthy prison term only if he expressed a willingness to enter a comprehensive and stringent drug program.

“You play ball with me or I’ll send you to state prison … big time”, Bridges told Russell. Russell responded that he was “willing in concept” to commit to a drug program.

The assistant district attorney handling the case, Alaina French, also called for nothing less than a prison sentence or a 24-hour-a-day drug program. She noted that Russell “continued to be a problem to the people of the community”, and asked the court for a “stay away” order to keep Russell out of Denton city.

Testimony was then heard from several witnesses, who spoke for and against Russell.

Willa Joan Waters, the president of the 22nd Street Neighborhood Association, said she and her neighbors in the Inner Mission were “angry” about Russell’s presence in the community, particularly after observing him inject drugs in the Green Alley.