A week after housing activists rallied around a family facing eviction in Outer Southeast—a confrontation that drew riot cops and saw the use of pepper spray—the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office this morning took a more strategic approach when showing up at another Portland home where a family had vowed to defy an order to quit.
The sheriff's office confirmed sending deputies this morning to a house occupied by Will and Heather Sirotak, a couple who recently lost a court fight arguing their foreclosed home near NE Cesar Chavez and Klickitat had been illegally sold at auction earlier this year. The Sirotaks, vocal in the anti-foreclosure movement, say their bank refused to work with them after Heather Sirotak was treated for a cancer that her insurer classified as a pre-existing condition and her husband lost his job as a construction manager amid a downturn.
But in a shift, according to activists with We Are Oregon, deputies seemed to be trying to subvert the same rapid-response network of sympathizers who showed up last week. Angus Maguire, spokesman for the group, said deputies in unmarked cars waited until Will Sirotak left the house with his granddaughter and then tailed him, even detaining him briefly, before knocking on the door of the home. Eventually, both the home's front and back doors were broken down and Heather Sirotak was escorted out while still in her pajamas—her phone, which she was using to call supporters, having been taken away.
Sheriff's spokesman Lieutenant Steve Alexander wouldn't comment on "tactics," but said deputies "did have to go through the door."
"She refused to vacate and she was trying to use the phone," he said. "They removed that distraction from her hand and gave it right back to her."
Maguire said Heather Sirotak's call to the response network's dispatcher—the person in charge of sending text alerts—was cut off mid-sentence, but that the dispatcher sent out the alert anyway. But Maguire also said there was an unexplained hiccup in the dispatch system for several minutes. Eventually, the alert was canceled.
"There's no explanation as to why," he said. "We haven't had problems with it in the past."
The home is officially owned by Will Tucker of Willamette Valley Realty, a company that renovates homes and resells them, and Tucker has since padlocked the homes front gates. He tells me he's having a professional moving company cart the family's belongings into a storage unit. The family is keen to get back sentimental objects, including an urn containing the ashes of another grandchild.
"Like I told them," he said, "they need to have a representative make an appointment. I don't want either of them to come."
Tucker says he offered the family money in April to move out after learning they still lived in the house, and then again recently. He said they refused other offers to sell the house over the years, too. I'm waiting to confirm that.
"There are other scenarios where someone is wrongly foreclosed one," he said. "But this is not one of them."
Update 1 PM: We Are Oregon replied with this statement:
The foreclosure and eviction were still being contested in court during the auction. The developer was trying to get them to settle for a fraction of the cost. But they knew that the foreclosure was illegal and decided to see the case through. They were offended by that offer because they were still shocked that the house went up for sale even though they were contesting the eviction.
There were many times they tried to put up the house for short sale but each of the offers were refused by the bank.
They had a trial modification for 3 months but it was not permanent and the bank was still foreclosing. This is known as dual-track modification. Which is illegal now that the foreclosure law's passed, but there is no recourse to enforce it.
They bought the house in 2004. They made all their payments till 2009 after Will lost his job. We don't even know how he got that 2007 date.
Maguire's group and other have stepped up their attempts to defend families against dubious foreclosures and are encouraging supporters to send letters to Sheriff Dan Staton and Portland officials asking them for a moratorium on foreclosures.
"There's been no entertaining of a discussion," Maguire says. "We had meetings with them a long while back. They were not interested."
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