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Neighbors mobilize against squatters in their cul-de-sac


Snohomish Police Department photo

Neighbors, elected officials and police officers gathered Wednesday, March 21 for a meeting at Weaver Way prompted by neighborhood complaints at the City Council meeting the night before. The house discussed in the story is not visible in the picture.

SNOHOMISH — When a 25-year-old woman was found dead on the floor at 1405 Weaver Way on March 6, neighbors were upset, but not surprised.
Since November, when squatters with criminal records settled in the abandoned home, neighbors said life has become increasingly scary.
A resident at the property told police the woman was known to use methadone, and according to police reports, her mother confirmed she was addicted to heroin and had begun using methadone. Drug residue and paraphernalia were found near her body. The woman’s cause of death was not released by the medical examiner’s office, and she also suffered from serious asthma, but the end of her short life at the house on Weaver Way was a horror-movie moment for the formerly peaceful Bicycle Tree subdivision off of Bickford Avenue.
“There used to be kids playing in the streets, it was like Mayberry,” said neighbor Katie Ard. “This used to be a happy place,” but now “my kids are a prisoner in their own home.”
The house at 1405 Weaver Way sits sedately tucked back from the road at the end of a cul-de-sac full of half-million dollar homes. Its nondescript brown exterior and black curtains mask what’s going on inside.
On a March 21 visit, a male voice hushed a growling dog from behind the front door, but no one answered to speak to any of the dozens of complaints about the property’s inhabitants. Calls and emails to two people for comment the Tribune identifies as residents, and a call to another individual listed as on site at the time of the death went unreturned.
While residents are silent, property records, police reports and neighbors who feel besieged by the unwelcome guests next door have much to share.
Seven neighbors spoke at a March 20 City Council meeting about the squatters.
As people shared pieces of the story, a narrative emerged.
Sean Witherow spoke of the hypodermic needles, trash and shopping carts that followed after the squatters’ arrival in November. He believed, like others, that the squatters intended to fix up the property and claim it as their own.
They “basically broke a back window, changed locks, wrote up a bogus rental agreement that they show to every police officer that comes there,” said neighbor Danny Guidera. He said the lights on the property were all on in the middle of the night. “We know they’re doing drugs in there, you can tell the people are tweaking, they can’t help themselves,” he said. “Those people have (criminal) records longer than my arm.”
The four people in the house the day the woman died each have extensive criminal records, from checking their histories.
Neighbors said their street was busy from 2 to 4 a.m. with cars making quick stops at the property.
One mother shared her fear that a drug deal gone wrong would result in bullets flying through her nearby window and killing her children. She said she had observed a drone from 1405 Weaver Way in front of her daughters’ bedroom window and suspected it had a camera. She said when she confronted the drone operator, telling him she would shoot the drone down, he threatened to shoot her family.
Jason Haugland and his wife, Katie, shared about the level three sex offender seen at the property, who they allege is the same man who operated the drone. The man was convicted of kidnapping and attempted rape of a 19-year-old in 2001 and a failure to register as a sex offender in 2006.
Councilmembers and city officials mobilized quickly after the revelations, meeting the next morning and making a trip to the cul-de-sac that afternoon, March 21.
A team including Mayor John Kartak, City Administrator Steve Schuller, Police Chief Keith Rogers, Community Outreach Officer Rich Niebusch and City Councilwoman Linda Redmon scoped out the property and listened to neighbors’ concerns. However, they have limited powers to act.
Police reports show residents were communicating concerns as early as Dec. 2.
After water to the property was turned off in late fall, a neighbor photographed residents tampering with the water access panel. On Dec. 6, while police were on site, Snohomish Public Works staff reported the water had been spliced. They disabled water service by backfilling the access with asphalt for a more permanent shutoff.
The Dec. 6 police report also noted that the locks on the front door appeared to have been changed and that the handwritten lease provided by a resident seemed “minimal” and that the reporting officer suspected the residents were attempting to take adverse possession of the property.
Neighbors also said they observed residents attempting to drill a hole in the 1405 Weaver Way mailbox and insert their own lock in an attempt to establish mail service.
Ard caught a 1405 Weaver Way resident stealing a package from her front porch on surveillance camera. When police facilitated the return of the stolen property, a portable battery pack, from the problem house, it was missing cables and useless.
Two neighbors also reported frequent damage to their stone retaining walls being struck because of excess traffic visiting the house.
“Although these nuisance properties are fairly complicated to police, we are on the right path working in collaboration with this neighborhood to address their safety concerns. This neighborhood will continue to have a highly visible police presence until these safety issues are fully resolved,” Rogers said in an email. Rogers is hopeful that relationship building with residents will result in a Morgantown-style neighborhood watch.
Neighbors commended the police for their frequent attention at the property, particularly since the March 6 death. Residents have installed a parking placard to designate a spot for the patrol cars that frequent the location. The Police Department held a private meeting for residents Thursday, March 29.
Rogers said at the council meeting that in his professional experience, it sometimes took years to solve problems at such houses. He added that while sex offenders were permitted to live almost anywhere, he would ensure that the individual staying on site would have weekly check-ins as he was registered as homeless.
City staff are vigilant now, too. “From my perspective and working with Mayor Kartak, this is something we are following almost literally daily,” Schuller said in an interview.
“We wish we had more powers than we do,” Schuller told residents at the March 20 meeting.
While neighbors may call frequently on suspicious activity, observing actionable crimes is less common. And evicting squatters from a foreclosed property in the absence of an involved, motivated owner is often notoriously difficult.
In the meantime, residents say they have invested thousands in security cameras and some are considering restraining orders and purchasing firearms.
“We don’t have any, but by this weekend we will,” said neighbor Jeremy Ard on March 21.
The Weaver Way home is up for auction, which some speculate may be the most practical and fastest solution to the problems plaguing the neighborhood. On May 18, at 10 a.m., the foreclosed home may be sold — to normal, quiet neighbors, residents hope. But 2011 and 2013 auction attempts were unsuccessful. Schuller hopes the booming real estate market will return a different result this time.
In the meantime, homeowners are appalled at the hijacking of their neighborhood. “I am amazed in this day and age you can steal a house,” neighbor Bridget Guidera told the council.

 

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