An overhead view of the blocked off area in Portland, Oregon. Screen grab from YouTube.
After an almost weeklong standoff between protesters and law enforcement officials over the attempted eviction of a North Portland family who lost their home to foreclosure, city officials reached an agreement to end the protesters’ blockade of the area around North Mississippi Avenue between North Skidmore and North Prescott Streets. Barricades began coming down Sunday as negotiations continued.
Activists had occupied the area surrounding the “Red House” since Tuesday in support of the Kinney family, who had lived there for decades but lost their home to foreclosure. The Portland Police Bureau said in a statement that activists fortified themselves in and around the home after Multnomah County Sheriff’s deputies and Portland police officers arrived Tuesday morning to secure it for the new owner — a developer who had planned to demolish it.
When police attempted to disperse people from the property, some threw objects at police and broke windows and flattened tires on two police vehicles. “Officers disengaged and people entered the private property again. A crowd of people eventually used fencing and other materials to block North Mississippi Avenue and began stockpiling rocks.”
“Law enforcement and community members have seen individuals at the encampment heavily armed, establishing blockades, producing incendiary devices, constructing spike strips using barbed wire and stockpiling shields, sticks and rocks,” Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese said in a statement Friday. “Portland is now facing an armed occupation in a residential neighborhood, putting a couple dozen homes and businesses in the immediate area in danger and jeopardizing everyone’s safety.”
The Oregonian/OregonLive reported that it obtained a copy of a letter Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Police Chief Chuck Lovell sent the Kinney family apologizing for statements the leaders made earlier in the week, including this tweet Wheeler posted Tuesday: “I am authorizing the Portland Police to use all lawful means to end the illegal occupation on North Mississippi Avenue and to hold those violating our community’s laws accountable. There will be no autonomous zone in Portland.”
“We apologize and understand that following our tweets earlier this week that your family received threats,” the letter to the Kinney family said. “We did not intend to attract attention that results in threats of harm and violence to your family or that escalated tensions in our community. Nobody should be subjected to this kind of stress and harm, and we apologize for the role our tweets played in this.”
While full details of the city’s agreement with the family and their supporters have not been released, the letter said the city would help the family find temporary housing and effective legal counsel.
Roman Ozeruga, the real estate investor who bought the so-called “Red House on Mississippi” through a foreclosure sale in 2018 for $260,000, offered to sell it back to the Kinney family, which had owned the house since the 1950s. Ozeruga, who co-owns Urban Housing Development LLC, told The Oregonian he was “overwhelmed” by the aggressive demonstrations and occupation of the home, and he offered to sell the property back to the former owners at cost.
The family appears to have raised enough to buy the house back, thanks to a “Save the Kinney Family Home” GoFundMe campaign organized on the family’s behalf, which has raised more than $308,000.
The legal battle between the original residents and Ozeruga dates back to November 2018 when a civil complaint was filed in the Multnomah County Circuit Court for an eviction due to a nonjudicial foreclosure. After the courts ruled in favor of the property owner, a writ of execution was issued Aug. 12, 2020.
On Sept. 9, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office’s Civil Unit served the eviction notice. Officials said in a statement the residents were confrontational and uncooperative at the time, but deputies were able to connect with another relative that offered housing to the family. Shortly after the home was returned to the property owner, people began illegally trespassing on the property, and the home was broken into. A second writ was reissued by the courts, and deputies served the writ again on Tuesday to occupants illegally trespassing on the property.
“Prior to the notice being served, MCSO coordinated with a local service provider to line-up resources, such as shelter, bus passes, food, water, clothing items, blankets and hand warmers,” the Sheriff’s office said in a statement. “The situation changed dramatically when deputies found the home to be heavily fortified from within and discovered a number of firearms on the property.”
A statement from the Sheriff’s office also said, “Data captured by [the Portland Police Bureau] shows over the three-month period, from September 1 to November 30, 2020, at least 81 calls for service were placed for issues related to this property and the immediate area. Calls for service included, but were not limited to, fights, disturbances, shots fired, burglary, thefts, vandalism, noise violations, trespassing, threats, including by armed individuals, and for illegally blocking traffic, sidewalks and access to homes.”
Before the agreement to remove the barricades was reached, the Portland Police Bureau urged residents in the area to stay inside their homes and warned people to avoid the area whenever possible.
Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He has covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children. His creative outlets include Skovlund Photography and Concentrated Emotion.
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