Mayor Ed Murray asked Seattle police to “stand by” instead of evicting a wheelchair-bound Vietnam vet and his wife.
The mayor on July 21 asked Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole to hold off on the eviction of Byron and Jean Barton, who live in a West Seattle home in the process of foreclosure.
“We are attempting to understand all options that may exist in this situation,” the mayor said in a statement.
When deputies with the King County Sheriff’s Office showed up at the home to enforce a court-ordered eviction on July 18, they were met by members of Standing Against Foreclosure and Eviction (SAFE), who attempted to block the door of the house. The Bartons had contacted SAFE because they believe the foreclosure is illegal, said SAFE member Josh Sturman. After deputies removed SAFE members from the front steps, medics carried Barton in his wheelchair to a waiting ambulance. Barton had a stroke in 2012, which paralyzed the left side of his body. Since then, he has spent his days in the house in a hospital bed. His wife Jean works for Mary’s Place, a nonprofit that supports homeless women.
After medics placed Byron in the ambulance, three SAFE members lay down under the vehicle. With the vehicle unable to move, deputies placed Byron on the sidewalk, Sturman said.
After law enforcement officials left, Byron asked to be returned to his home. Even though the locks had been changed, SAFE members found that the back door was open and wheeled him to the house, where he grew up and has lived for more than 60 years, Sturman said.
Sturman said the Bartons claim the foreclosure is illegal because the couple noticed that on some of their foreclosure documents, Jean’s signature looked to be forged. Handwriting experts supported the Barton’s belief, he said.
The couple is in a civil land dispute with Triangle Property Development, LLC.
The case, under appeal, is in the state court, Sturman said.
Attempts to reach a representative from the company were unsuccessful.
The Bartons’ case drew the attention of local media and City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who attended the eviction blockade. On July 21, she posted a press release on her council webpage saying the Bartons and SAFE activists participated in nonviolent civil disobedience.
“I ask all my fellow Councilmembers to join me in asking Mayor [Ed] Murray to instruct the SPD to focus on its other work, and not to get involved in this [foreclosure] dispute,” Sawant wrote.
DB Gates, media representative from the King County Sheriff’s Office, said that if deputies evict someone and the person moves back into the home, it’s considered criminal trespass. The law enforcement agency with jurisdiction in that area is then responsible for removing the tenants.
In the case of the Bartons, that responsibility falls to the SPD, said Gates.
In Murray’s statement, he wrote that an interdepartmental team is working on city foreclosures and ways to connect city residents to resources.
“I’ve pledged the City of Seattle’s participation in the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness in 2015, and will launch a separate process to address homelessness and increase housing affordability in the months ahead,” he wrote.
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