U.S. Marshals breach Occupy Our Homes blockade, violently evict DC tenant
|June 6, 2012||Posted by Anne Meador under Featured, News, Print Issues, Stories, Volume 2, Issue 4 (July/August 2012)|
In an effort to prevent U.S. Marshals from evicting tenant Dawn Butler, activists aligned with the Occupy Our Homes DC blockaded the entrance to her northeast D.C. home on June 5. The “eviction defense” resulted in a dramatic confrontation between those defending the house and law enforcement, in which the front door of the home was ripped from its frame and several people were injured. This was the second time that Occupy Our Homes, one of Occupy DC’s working groups, had defended Butler’s home. On April 2, Occupy Our Homes successfully intervened and prevented the Butler family from being evicted.
Occupy Our Homes DC works with area residents to prevent wrongful foreclosures and evictions. In the Dawn Butler case, Occupy DC legal counsel has represented her at DC Superior Housing Court proceedings.
Occupy Our Homes DC took on the case after learning that the local resident was denied the “right of first refusal,” the right of a tenant to buy a landlord’s foreclosed property, when her landlord was foreclosed on by JP Morgan Chase. By blocking the path of marshals, Occupy Our Homes intended to delay them long enough for Butler’s lawyer to obtain a stay of eviction in court
Arriving just before 9:00 a.m., the marshals didn’t seem to expect the blockade. They conferred for more than an hour as additional manpower, vehicles, and a K-9 unit arrived. According to livestreamer Austin Dalton, law enforcement officers outnumbered protestors at the start of the morning’s eviction. After a locksmith removed the gate lock, officers struggled with one man who had tied himself to the gate, then wrestled him onto the lawn along with several others.
After ordering protesters to clear the steps, then removing them by force, officers rushed the large barricade made of milk crates in front of the home’s entrance that the protesters had erected. Three activists had secured themselves to the blockade with PVC wiring as an additional layer of protection for the home and were injured in the removal. “Everyone [removed from the blockade] was hurt in some way, cuts, bruises, scrapes, from being hit and thrown on the concrete,” Dalton said.
Marc Smith, a protester who was trying to protect the houses’ basement door, stated he was choked to unconsciousness by a marshal. “He squeezed my legs and neck and pinned me against a wall, pulling my head until I passed out.” Dalton says Smith was unconscious for at 5 least minutes and waited 20 minutes for medical assistance.
Mike Isaacson, who was also tied to the barricade, said of the injury sustained by a marshal at the site, “The door broke in half horizontally and a piece [of PVC piping] hit an officer in the head while they pulled on it.” According to the U.S. Marshals Public Affairs Office, the officer was treated and released from the hospital quickly.
Since U.S. Marshals are required to have a warrant to make an arrest and have no jurisdiction to make arrests in eviction proceedings, none were made. However, law enforcement did make a show of force by violently removing any protester who tried to prevent the eviction – including dragging many down the house’s front stairs. An antsy marshal brandished a taser during the height of the confusion and another stood guard on the lawn with an M-4 rifle. “I absolutely did not expect it to be so violent,” said protestor Denis Valdez. “Quite a few people were roughed up.”
After all the protestors were expelled and the property cordoned off, movers hired by JP Morgan Chase formed a procession of couches, mattresses, lamps, and personal belongings in totes and plastics bags. Even a grandfather clock was deposited curbside.
Dawn’s mother, Anne Butler, remained remarkably calm as she stood outside the house all morning. “I believe that we’re right. If I didn’t have that, then I’d be upset,” she said. She stated that she believed that Dawn would ultimately prevail in the courts. Her composure was momentarily disrupted when the sound of broken glass was heard from piles of belongings on the sidewalk. After discovering what the noise was, she lamented the breakage of antique sake glasses.
In 2009 Butler’s landlord lost the property to foreclosure. Butler claims she invested more than $286,000 in renovations, and, according to a provision of her lease, was released from the obligation of monthly rent payments. She’s made no rent payments since the 2009 foreclosure. According to Ann Wilcox, one of Occupy DC’s legal counsels, the Butlers were trying to purchase the house at a reduced price due to the repairs she had done – which was another provision in her lease.
Chase contends, however, that her lease is invalid since she was not paying a monthly rent and would not let her buy the house under the terms of her lease. Judge Melvin Wright decided in Chase’s favor on June 4, allowing the eviction to go forward after a full hearing. An emergency appeals panel of three judges upheld Wright’s decision later that evening.
Butler intends to appeal. She and her mother maintain that the foreclosure itself is fraudulent, alleging that the robo-signature “Liquenda Allotey” invalidates many documents. In the meantime, Butler, her mother, and her sister are staying with an aunt in Northern Virginia.
“My husband and I have a mortgage, and we’re managing,” said Virginia Spatz, one of Butler’s neighbors who was there to lend support for most of the day, summing up the situation, “[But for most people,] you’re hanging by a thread. This should be disturbing to all of us. This is not helping our neighborhood [or] building our community.”
(Additional reporting by John Zangas)