EVERETT, Wash. — It didn’t take long.
Snohomish County sheriff’s Deputy Alex Ross pulled on a pair of black gloves and pounded with authority on the door, explaining who he was and why he was there.
It was eviction day, he informed the heavily tattooed man in the tank top.
The man in his 20s shrugged. He thought he might have had another few days, but understood the reality: no pay, no stay. He’d received notice there was a court order for him to move out of the small, sparsely furnished room he’d been renting near Everett’s downtown.
Deputy Randy Winkley taped a red notice onto the beige door near the end of a narrow hallway. He told the man he was sorry for the circumstances.
“Grab your really important stuff so it doesn’t get stuck on the grass,” he told the man, who stuffed some clothes into an athletic bag and slipped his cellphone into a pocket.
The suddenly homeless man gave a woman in another apartment his electric fan and a stack of DVDs, but left behind a 13-inch box TV, a lamp and the mattress on the floor.
Outside, he called a friend while the landlord’s crew cleared out the room, leaning the mattress against a weather-beaten fence.
For Ross and Winkley, it was the first of many eviction stops on a sunny Thursday in early August, reported The Herald (http://bit.ly/2bKHJli). For safety’s sake, they arrive unannounced and encourage landlords and locksmiths to park a ways away. If the situation is deemed too dangerous, they’ll back off and return another day.
“We have a legal obligation, but nothing is worth someone getting hurt over and that’s on both sides of the door,” said Sgt. Clint Korhonen, who oversees the unit.
Over the years, there have been stories across the country of deputies getting shot during evictions.
“This can be the final straw that makes someone snap,” Korhonen said.
Winkley and Ross are two of the three deputies whose beat in the sheriff’s civil division includes evictions, repossessions, property seizures and removing children from homes in custody disputes. By state law, they handle evictions for the entire county, inside and outside the cities.
Korhonen has tagged along in the past. He is struck by the deputies’ demeanor, a mix of legal obligation and humility. They understand that “even though you have a job to do, these people are down on their luck,” he said.
Evictions make up most of their workload. In recent years, they’ve posted anywhere from 128 to 205 eviction notices a month. Those notices prompt some renters to pay up or leave or for landlords and tenants to reach some kind of last-minute accord.
Most notices result in the rap on the door, the explanation, the gathering of essentials and the tenant’s walk into uncertainty. Occasionally, there is a barricade or a door that needs kicking in. With each case, a landlord pays a fee.
Winkley left patrol to join the civil unit 11 years ago. He told himself at the time that if he didn’t like it, he’d leave. He stayed, in part, because he is always learning something new beyond tidbits of Latin-based legalese. He knows people at law offices, courts and apartment complexes by first name. He’s in frequent contact with them as he makes his rounds with a neat mound of paperwork in the backseat of the black SUV that’s part police car, part library.
Being the bearer of bad news comes with the job. He must assess each situation. He’s friendly to the friendly and firm with the feisty.
“It’s like buying a box of chocolates,” he said. “You never know what you are going to get.”
Often, homes have been abandoned by the time the deputies make the knock. He brings a flashlight with him even on the brightest of days. Many homes have no power.
A home in Lowell the other day appeared abandoned. Left behind were an empty bag of Cheetos, Jack in the Box food wrappers and a lighter on stained carpet.
Winkley has seen — and smelled — a lot over the years. He’s gone into drug dens. He’s discovered an addict days after a fatal overdose. He’s been to places where the flooring has been used for firewood for heat and children lived without power and no signs of food to eat. In an apartment looking out at the Everett Mall the other day, there were signs of drug use at the kitchen table and the reek of vomit down the hall.
He has a legal and professional duty, but some hardships evoke sympathy and efforts to help. There was the World War II veteran well into his 80s being evicted from his south Everett apartment. His wife, who had taken care of financial matters, died a few months before and there were no immediate relatives nearby. The right message to the right person in the right agency bought some time to find him another place to live.
For Winkley, the toughest calls involve children caught in the middle, whether from custody battles or families who face eviction. He tries a soft approach, hoping to ease any trauma. Those cases don’t get any easier.
There’s a rhythm to his days and even to certain times of year. He knows he can expect a lull around Christmas and the caseload to pick up come Jan. 1.
For most of the year, there is little let-up to his workday.
It seems there are always more court orders to carry out and doors to knock on.
“It’s kind of a race against time,” he said.
Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldnet.com