ONGOING COVERAGE: In West Seattle eviction fight, sheriff’s deputies remove Bartons again, arresting them for ‘criminal trespass’August 15, 2014 at 8:23 am | In West Seattle housing, West Seattle news | 193 Comments
(SCROLL DOWN FOR NEWEST UPDATE – 9:27 pm)
(WSB photos by Patrick Sand)
ORIGINAL REPORT, 8:23 AM: Jean and Byron Barton have been evicted from their former home in Morgan Junction again, according to King County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Sgt. DB Gates. We found her there after getting a telephone tip. This comes four days after a judge declined to order the city to enforce trespassing laws against them (WSB coverage here). They were already gone from the house when we got there; Sgt. Gates says people working for the company that bought the house at a foreclosure auction in April, Triangle Property Development, are in it now.
ADDED 8:37 AM: More information from Sgt. Gates: KCSO went in under auspices of a search warrant, not a new court order for eviction.
She says they “detained three adults for the crime of criminal trespassing,” including one of the Bartons’ grown sons, and that while Byron Barton was taken to the VA Hospital, Jean Barton and their son were taken to KCSO’s Southwest Precinct “for processing.” She did not expect they would be jailed. She said the search-warrant action happened “quickly” and that there were “no issues”; the three were the only people in the house, she said. No protesters (or other media) were there. Advocacy-group signage that had been outside the house for weeks has been removed, and the “no trespassing/video surveillance” sign shown in our photo above is in place. (added) This morning’s action comes one week after the court hearing on Triangle’s petition to force the city to take action, and four weeks after deputies first removed the Bartons from the house, which they re-occupied hours later. Triangle is not a party to the Bartons’ still-pending lawsuit (90-page PDF) against Chase Bank and two other entities, alleging the house was illegally foreclosed on.
ADDED 9:35 AM: The official KCSO news release has just arrived. In it, Sheriff John Urquhart alleges “politics (were) allowed to ride roughshod over the rule of law” prior to this morning’s action. Full text:
This morning just after 8:00 AM Sheriff’s Office detectives arrested 3 people and removed them from the residence at 6548 41st Ave SW. The charges were Criminal Trespass in the First Degree. The persons arrested were not booked and the case will be referred to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for filing of charges. Detectives entered the home with a search warrant as well as consent to search from the owners of the residence.
The arrestees included one man in his 60’s, the man’s wife, and their adult son. The older man was sent via ambulance to the VA Hospital in Seattle due to his health status.
The residence is generally knows as the “Barton house”.
“There are no winners in this situation, not the least of which is Mr. Barton, who is gravely disabled, and was living in extremely unsanitary and therefore dangerous conditions”, said Sheriff John Urquhart. “But Triangle Property Development, the lawful owner of the home, is a victim of bureaucratic inaction and back-and-forth finger-pointing between the City of Seattle and the Sheriff’s Office. That is inexcusable and that’s why I ordered today’s action. When politics is allowed to ride roughshod over the rule of law, everyone suffers. I was not willing to let that continue,” Urquhart added.
Triangle purchased the property on April 11, 2014 at a trustee’s sale after a foreclosure. The occupants and former owners of the residence (“the Barton’s”) refused to move, and subsequently the Sheriff’s Office received an eviction order from Superior Court on June 11, 2014. Before the eviction could be completed, the Barton’s received a stay of the eviction until another hearing could be held. The Barton’s attorney contested the eviction but was denied, and another eviction order was issued on July 3, 2014.
The eviction was finally completed on July 18, 2014. However, that same day the Barton’s, with the assistance of members from SAFE (Standing Against Foreclosure and Eviction), returned to the house and broke in. The Seattle Police Department was called, but they refused to remove the occupants. The following day Seattle Mayor Ed Murray directed the police department to “stand down” and not arrest the Barton’s or remove them from the house.
Since then, according to Mayor Murray’s office, city representatives have been in “almost daily contact” with the Barton’s in an effort to find them suitable housing, as well as health and human services for which they may be eligible. However, according to the city, the Barton’s “have not pursued any of these options while choosing to remain in the home.”
The Mayor’s Office also reports they made a referral to Adult Protective Services due to “observed conditions inside the home.”
On August 8, 2014, Triangle Properties asked King County Superior Court Judge Mariane Spearman to issue a writ ordering the city to enforce the trespass statutes and remove anyone in the residence. The City argued they have no duty to act or to enforce any particular law. Furthermore, the City argued the Sheriff’s Office, under state law, is required to enforce the criminal trespass laws in any city in King County, including Seattle, and said Triangle should demand the Sheriff’s Office make the appropriate arrests, despite the fact that the Seattle Police Department has primary jurisdiction in Seattle.
The City also wrote in their brief to the court, that “The Barton’s, under the circumstances of this case, are guilty of trespass in the first degree.” They also conceded in court that the eviction order was valid and was properly served.
Judge Spearman issued her written response on August 13th, denying the request for a writ ordering the Seattle Police to act. She ignored the City’s erroneous argument that the Sheriff’s Office was required to respond and enforce the criminal statutes inside the city limits of Seattle.
HISTORY: Reportedly the residence has been in the Barton family for over 60 years, and court records show the Barton’s mortgaged their home in 2007, then subsequently refinanced the loan and took out a home equity line of credit, with loans totaling over $650,000. The Barton’s stopped making payments, apparently in 2011, and they defaulted on those loans. The Barton’s filed two lawsuits in Federal Court to stop foreclosure actions. In the 2012 lawsuit Judge John Coughenour dismissed the lawsuit and wrote, “The Barton’s complaint is fatally lacking in both clarity and plausibility,” among other findings. The next year the Barton’s 2nd lawsuit in Federal Court was dismissed by Judge Robert Lasnik, this time with prejudice, and he wrote that this was essentially the same claims dismissed by Judge Coughenour a year earlier.
After the trustee’s sale of the property, the Barton’s filed a lawsuit in state court, asking to void the foreclosure and for damages of $4.8 million and other, miscellaneous amounts. That case is pending with a 2015 trial date expected.
We expect other comment on these developments as the day goes on and will add to this report whenever we get it. On its Facebook page, SAFE, the advocacy group that has supported the Bartons’ attempts to keep the house, has called its members to an emergency meeting later this morning.
10:53 AM: We went back to the neighborhood to see if anything new was happening. We found Jean Barton on the sidewalk, being interviewed by TV crews:
She confirms that Byron Barton is at the VA Hospital, and says she has nowhere else to go, in terms of a place to live.
12:36 PM: As noted in the ongoing comment discussion, we have obtained the search-warrant affidavit that led to this morning’s arrests. The warrant was signed by King County Superior Court Judge Helen Halpert. You can see it here (added) or embedded below:
1:17 PM: SAFE has e-mailed the following statement:
Two weeks ago, SAFE activists held a press conference where they asked the question, “Who runs this town?” Today, Sheriff Urquhart, stepping up to the role of corporate goon, answered the question definitively; property developers do. Thanks to a hastily-obtained search warrant, a mother and her son have been handcuffed, stuffed into a cop car, and taken down to county jail to be held. Byron Barton has been removed against his will from his childhood home and taken to a hospital. The Bartons’ home is now occupied by unknown “renters”.
This was not an eviction; it was a raid against Seattle citizens outside the primary jurisdiction of the King County Sheriff’s Department –an extraordinary move to place a family in jail at the behest of Triangle. The Sheriff’s department forced their way into the Barton home with a search warrant and detectives. Unusually, they did not have an unlawful detainer, which is the specific court document that would have allowed the Sheriff’s department to enact a legal eviction. The current unlawful detainer is under appeal.
The Sheriff issued a contradictory statement about today’s arrests. Sheriff Urquhart said of the arrests that “Triangle Property Development…is a victim of bureaucratic inaction…I was not willing to let that continue.” Does this mean that he will not allow elected officials to interfere with his interpretation of the law?
This is a clear about-face from just last week. At a court hearing regarding the Barton’s case, a representative of the Sheriff’s Department argued that the enforcement of criminal statutes, including trespassing charges, was in fact the purview of the Seattle Police Department, not King County Sheriffs. The Judge agreed. Why has the Sheriff’s Department now gone out of their own stated jurisdiction, and arrested the Bartons as criminal trespassers?
“This is a total violation of civil rights,” the Barton’s attorney Jill Smith said of the forcible eviction and arrest.
At this time, Byron Barton’s whereabouts within the hospital system are unknown. “The helplessness, I’m sure, is overwhelming for him,” Jean Barton said.
Note that while the statement suggests the Bartons were jailed, the King County Sheriff’s Office says they were not booked, and as reported earlier in this story, Jean Barton was back near the home, talking with media, within a few hours. It also should be noted, since the SAFE statement mentions elected officials, Urquhart also is an elected official. Meantime, if you don’t know this from earlier stories, Byron Barton suffered a stroke in 2012 that left him barely able to speak and in need of a wheelchair for mobility, as well as a hospital bed at home.
4:43 PM UPDATE: SAFE’s Facebook page said as of 4 pm that Byron Barton was headed back to try to gain admittance to the VA Hospital; a lawyer for the Bartons was quoted by SLOG earlier as saying he had been turned away there once and then taken to Harborview. We checked with both of those hospitals; the VA said they can’t comment on any patient, and Harborview said they had no one by that name (as of mid-afternoon). Meantime, SAFE’s Facebook page also says the group plans a demonstration against the sheriff Monday afternoon in Courthouse Park.
6:18 PM: Stopping by the 41st/Holly neighborhood yet again around 5 pm just to see if TV newstime had drawn anyone there, our photographer was waved down by Triangle Properties personnel who were still in the house, getting it ready for a tenant to move into immediately. They said other media crews had already come in the house for a look and wanted us to see it too. Here’s our photo of the living room:
Since the only part of the house we’d been in previously was the basement, and that was hours after the Bartons reoccupied the house following the July 18th eviction, we can’t really make a comparison.
9:31 PM: SAFE’s newest Facebook update says that Byron Barton has continued to be shuttled between hospitals and is headed back to the VA to spend the night.
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