A protester-erected barricade around a home on North Mississippi Avenue in Portland continued to grow Wednesday, as both the mayor and police chief warned of looming action if protesters did not retreat from the site.
For months, protesters have camped out at the home to oppose the eviction of the Kinneys, a Black and Indigenous family that has lived there for over six decades and as a stand against further gentrification of the city’s historically Black Albina neighborhood. The conflict boiled over Tuesday after local law enforcement moved into the area to carry out what they termed “a property mission” to remove the family and protesters. A swarm of protesters forced the outnumbered police to retreat. Law enforcement has yet to return.
But it’s likely they’ll soon be back. Despite the eviction moratorium, the courts have allowed the Kinneys’ eviction to proceed, and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has signaled he wants the area cleared quickly. The mayor authorized Portland Police late Tuesday to use “all lawful means” to move the protesters and warned, “there will be no autonomous zone in Portland.” The mayor’s office later clarified that does not include the use of CS gas, a common type of tear gas that was banned in Portland this fall.
On Wednesday afternoon, the family held a press conference in front of the house, dubbed “the Red House on Mississippi,” to tell the story of the family’s eviction.
The Kinney family eviction battle started in 2016 when their mortgage was transferred to a different firm. That transfer kicked off a series of complex financial maneuvers as the loan was transferred, but the loan servicer remained the same. Then the loan servicer changed too.
In a January 2017 letter, the Kinneys were told to start making mortgage payments to a different company.
Julie Metcalf Kinney’s son, William Nietzche, said the communications they received from the company were confusing and the family tried to figure out who they were supposed to pay.
“The old servicer and the new servicer were requesting the same mortgage payment for two months in a row,” he said.
In June 2017, the family asked the new loan servicer, Rushmore Loan Management Services LLC, if they were in fact the company holding their mortgage.
By that point, the family, who had been paying their mortgage in full and on time up until the January notice, had stopped paying their mortgage.
Nietzche said the company sent form letters saying the matter was important to them and that they were looking into it.
“They played that little game all the way until they declared default behind the scenes on us and foreclosed,” he said.
The Kinney family never retained a lawyer. Nietzche told OPB they contacted a number of attorneys and were turned down. Nietzche wound up representing the family himself.
Court documents show letters he wrote to the loan servicer made arguments grounded in his claim to be a sovereign citizen and rejecting the authority of the United States government.
Months of written communication between Nietzche and Rushmore continued until October 2018 when Rushmore proceeded with foreclosure and the house was sold.
Oregon has a “right of redemption” law allowing people whose homes have been foreclosed on to buy them back. That did not apply to the Kinneys, however, because the eviction was from a non-judicial foreclosure, a less common type of residential foreclosure where the lender sends a letter of default and “home loss danger” notice to the homeowner with a date of intended sale.
Since the foreclosure, the family, still choosing to represent themselves, has filed lawsuits in Oregon state and federal courts. They lost repeatedly.
“If you look at the case in terms of what a just system would do versus what the law is doing to these people, it’s a stark difference,” said Jesse Merritthew, a Portland-based civil rights attorney.
Merritthew said he sees situations like this often when he reviews civil rights cases of prisoners who were unrepresented.
“They try to make their arguments sound legal and that’s almost always a mistake,” he said. “And they end up filing things that aren’t following the rules the court has because they aren’t lawyers. For the lawyers on the other side, it’s really easy to just run circles around people who are doing that.”
After reviewing some of the court records, Merritthew said it doesn’t appear the family was competently represented or had their argument presented to the court in language it understands.
In September, a Multnomah County judge authorized the eviction and, according to the family, sheriff’s deputies came to the home to order the family to vacate the building.
“This was a devastating action that was taken,” said Julie Metcalf Kinney. “The sheriffs came in and devastated everything again. The tactics that are used to do this are beyond despicable.”
Since then, activists have created an “eviction blockade,” camping out in front of the home around the clock. A group was present when officers arrived early Tuesday to evict the family and the numbers swelled throughout the day. Around 30 people remained at the site Wednesday.
“The community surrounded the land,” said Michael Kinney, one of the sons. “And the land was taken back.”
Organizers created an online fundraiser in September for the family that has so far brought in $123,000 — up from $40,000 the day before.
In a video released just before the family’s press conference, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell sent a message to those at the site, urging them to leave the zone and “allow the community to return to order.”
“Those present at the barricades should leave it behind, put down your weapons and allow the neighborhood to return to peace and order,” Lovell said. “The Portland Police will enforce the law and use force if necessary to restore order to the neighborhood.”
Portland police have said residents in the area have had difficulty traveling around the street barricades, and fire or emergency medical services could be slowed in the area due to blocked streets. They also said crimes, including assault, have been reported.
The Kinneys said Wednesday that they want a peaceful solution to the standoff, one that includes them being able to stay in the house.