Demonstrators in Seattle tried on Friday to physically block the court-ordered eviction of a disabled Vietnam veteran he and local activists blame on predatory lenders, KIRO-TV reported on Friday.
"I want to go home to my bed," the homeowner, Byron Barton, said during the protest. Barton, who suffered a heart attack and a stroke in 2011, is confined to a wheelchair. "I worked all my life and defended my country for four years."
The eviction, carried out by King County Sheriff's officials, was met with resistance by members of Standing Against Foreclosure and Eviction (SAFE). Barton originally bought the property with a loan, which he also used to pay for medical bills she incurred in the final years before her death.
But the heart attack and stroke, combined with the decline of his home-remodeling business, left him unable to complete his mortgage payments. Barton told The Stranger last month that JP Morgan, which owned the note on the home, refused to renegotiate his loan agreement. The property was purchased at auction this past April by a local company, Triangle Property Development.
"We asked them to give us until Sept. 1 to get our stuff out," Barton's wife, Jean, told KIRO. "We have 61 years worth of stuff here."
Protesters lay down under an ambulance that authorities said were sent to Barton's home to take him to a local Veteran's Affairs facility. When the demonstrators refused to move, Barton was taken out of the ambulance and placed on the sidewalk, by which point the lock to his front door had been changed. Sheriff's officials and medical personnel then left the residence.
"That is the only option we're given," Sheriff's Deputy Robin Fenton was quoted as saying. "I'm not here to say whether it's right or wrong. I'm saying, when we do an eviction, that is our option."
After Fenton and her fellow deputies left, however, demonstrators took Barton back into the home via an unsecured back entrance, and placed him back in his bed.
"What are they gonna do, arrest me?" he asked KIRO.
Seattle Weekly News reported last month that an unidentified sheriff's detective refused to carry out a similar eviction order against the couple, because of Byron Barton's condition. And according to The Stranger, thousands of local homeowners face similar challenges keeping their property, which has led to criticism of the Seattle city council for failing to address the problem.
Officials with the local housing office presented the council with a 33-page report (PDF) recommending the council allocate $150,000 toward a program putting homeowners at risk of eviction in contact with housing services. But banks reportedly objected to another report from a Cornell economist recommending the city implement "principal reduction," a strategy in which the city would use its powers of eminent domain to lower the principal for homeowners unable to pay their mortgages.
The Bartons' attorney has argued that Triangle Property's purchase is not legitimate because "proper procedures" were not observed in putting it up for purchase. But the company's attorney, Synthia Melton, defended its claim in an interview with KING-TV last month.
"My client is now the legal owner of the property and is entitled to possession," Melton was quoted as saying. "After making several attempts to resolve this matter amicably, which included offers of assistance, we were forced to seek relief from the court."
Watch KIRO's report on Friday's attempt to evict Barton below.