In the first six months of 2020, the calls to 4129 Gary Street N.E. escalated quickly and ended with the home owner allegedly menacing his renters with a sledge hammer while threatening to burn down the house.
Complaints regarding foot traffic at all day and night, fighting and theft led to charges of stolen vehicles, theft, delivery of controlled substances possession of controlled substances, physical harassment and menacing to name a few. In all, police officers responded to the address 22 times and made 17 arrests between February 6 and June 30. However, Keizer Police Department (KPD) officers and the city’s code enforcement officer eventually quashed the criminal activity arising from the address.
According to police officials, the home fell into disrepair over a period of two years. The single-family residence was purchased in 2018 by an individual who made three payments on the mortgage before defaulting. In December 2019, power and water services were cut and the bank began the process of taking back the home.
In January 2020, a man named Javier Cruz purchased the home and began renting out single bedrooms and a shed in the backyard.
KPD was first alerted to the presence of potential squatters in December 2019. Police investigated and found Cruz living at the home that was still without power and water. Because he was the owner, no crime was being committed.
In February, KPD called in Keizer Code Enforcement Officer Ben Crosby who began contacting Cruz and advising him that the home needed to be reconnected to power, water and sewer lines and remove his “renters” because the house was unsanitary. At the time, Cruz owed $600 for sewer and water bills plus an additional, undisclosed amount to Salem Electric.
In March, state orders preventing evictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic took effect and hampered abatement proceedings. During the next month, Crosby visited the home five times, KPD patrol officers responded to 11 calls to the address and the KPD Community Response Unit (CRU) responded another 10 times.
“At one point, someone left a propane camp stove on in the house without the flame being lit, and CRU had to address the issue for the people inside,” according to a summary of the events at the home provided by KPD. “Subjects later stated Cruz oftentimes left the propane running and would forget to turn it off.”
Garbage piling up behind the home was attracting flies and nesting maggots.
In April, water began flowing to the home again but only because someone cut the lock off the meter to override a shut off put in place before the pandemic began. After Keizer Public Works removed the meter – under supervision by CRU officers – someone attempted to jerry rig a new connection with garden hoses. By April 4, residents of the home were accused of stealing water by running a hose from the outdoor spigot of a neighboring home.
Power had been restored by the beginning of June, but the water situation had not improved. Without water, the home could be deemed unlivable and Crosby and CRU officers arranged to monitor the home and turn away those who tried to enter it.
On June 30, Keizer patrol officers were called to the home on a report of menacing.
Two female residents had fled through a window and called police alleging Cruz threatened them with a sledge hammer and “set a five-gallon propane canister outside the room and opened the valve while telling them he was going to burn the house down.”
Cruz was arrested on suspicion of menacing, reckless endangering and two counts of coercion.
After the incident, the residents were given an hour to leave the home while it was being boarded up. Cruz is no longer the legal owner of the home and it is expected to go up for auction in the future. Since Cruz’s arrest, officers have responded only once to the Gary Street address when an unknown subject tried to remove property from the home in the middle of the night.
The investigations and eventual arrest of Cruz are one example of KPD’s problem-oriented policing policies. By seizing opportunities to address the underlying problem – which, in this case, was the condition of the home – police and Keizer’s code enforcement officer were able to end the rising number of response calls it generated.
Cruz, 47, remains in jail with a $500,000 bail while awaiting trial. The Marion County District Attorney’s Office has charged him with attempted murder in the second degree attempted assault in the first degree and unlawful use of a weapon.