From order to chaos: Eviction can lead to a free-for-all

From order to chaos: Eviction can lead to a free-for-all

Constable Charles Wiggins Jr. could sense what was about to happen.

With 30 years of law enforcement under his belt, including 18 in the constable’s office and the last eight as the head man in Precinct 1, serving an eviction is old hat for him and his staff, but Wednesday’s situation was just a tad different.

Wiggins and his deputy Jeanne Riley were called to serve an eviction at 5560 Minner on Beaumont’s north end on behalf of a local credit union that had foreclosed on the home. The owner of the house, Thomas Turk, has not been seen in nearly a year and had not made a mortgage payment on the house in 14 months, Riley said.

While foreclosures are nothing new given the down economy and the havoc that’s been wrought on the housing market, most folks that abandon a home generally take valuables with them before fleeing.

Turk left a full house.

“You don’t see this very often, someone leaving everything,” said Wiggins, who was mystified as to what happened to Turk, causing him to up and leave like a thief in the night.

“The house was set up as though someone just stepped out and never came back,” Wiggins said.

While there were no signs that anyone had been at the house in months, Riley and Wiggins were both flummoxed over the fact that the water and lights were both still on, the grass had been cut and the mail had been checked.

“That’s strange to me because usually the utilities aren’t on,” said Riley, who’s been a deputy for the past eight years.

Nevertheless, there was a job to do and four movers spent Wednesday morning and part of the early afternoon unloading a fully furnished three-bedroom, two-bathroom house into the front yard and driveway.

One by one, couches, chairs, tables, two large flat screen televisions, two large tube televisions, a glass TV stand, end tables, wooden book cases, bamboo bar stools, a king size bed, a laptop, two computers, and some sports collectibles like a Kobe Bryant rookie card, Barry Bonds rookie card and two Ken Griffey rookie cards – all in mint condition in plastic cases – were hauled out of the house.

“He has some nice stuff, which makes it even odder why he just vanished,” Wiggins said.

And with each item that was added to the suddenly jam-packed front yard, neighbors began spilling out of their homes and waiting for the constable and movers to leave.

“It’ll be a free-for-all after I leave,” Wiggins said.

Part of a constable’s job is to serve eviction notices, and when those occur and items are moved out of the house to the edge of the property on the day of the eviction, those items are technically under the control and safeguard of the constable. But once the constable leaves, under the law, according to Wiggins, the protection of the items is lifted and while the items still technically belong to the former tenant, they are also technically there for the taking, as well.

And they generally get taken.

As the movers put the final items out on the lawn, the driveway was also half-full with boxes and large plastic containers that had been neatly packed who knows when, and a caravan of trucks – including some with trailers – formed a line down the street, waiting for Wiggins and crew to leave.
The movers finally finished, Riley left to help with court that afternoon, and the gentleman working on behalf of the credit union (who was not permitted to comment, he said) concluded his inventory of the house and jumped in his car.

Meanwhile, there was a tense mood in the air as close to two dozen people, some neighbors, some clearly not from the neighborhood, were ready to pounce on the treasure trove of goodies that Thomas Turk left behind.

The man

A group of people waiting in the yard next to Turk’s house was inching closer to the driveway when asked when was the last time they’d seen Turk and what they thought happened to him.

“He fell into a depression,” said one man, who lived nearby, “I would see him on his front porch and he looked like he’d lost his best friend. But I saw a picture of him on Facebook and he’s in the Bahamas now, so he’s not coming back.”

While no one was sure what really happened to him, they could only speculate as to why he left all his stuff behind.

“Depression will do that to a person,” said another neighbor matter-of-factly, dressed in house shoes, brown sweat pants and a white T-shirt.

It is believed Turk may have run into some financial problems, as neighbors recall seeing his cars get repossessed. Elroy Wolf, who lived down the street, said Turk generally kept to himself, and had a nice “Black Widow” Ford Mustang. “I’d never seen one of those before,” Wolf said.

While no one could recall what happened to Turk, almost everyone knew that he used to work at Men’s Wearhouse. According to an employee at the store, Turk was at one time the store manager at the Beaumont location and left in February 2010 after “about five years”; however, the employee said he could not divulge why Turk left.

Turk was a bit of a ladies man, as well, marrying three times in just over three years, according to Jefferson County marriage records. A public records search indicated no criminal record, and the only civil record on file was a divorce from his second marriage in Jefferson County – which lasted all of four months.

The mad rush

Just before leaving, and with the crowd ready to pounce, Wiggins addressed the group, reminding them that the stuff on the property belonged to someone, and he could come back for it.

Charlie Brown’s teacher may as well have been talking and Wiggins would’ve been better off blowing a whistle because as soon as he got into his car and pulled away, it was on. Some people ran, others walked really fast – and they came from all directions, and for as long as it took. Roughly four hours later, Thomas Turk’s home was cleared out.

Two men who appeared as though they’d done this before, armed with a dolly, grabbed one of the televisions, the other a bookcase. One person, every bit of 6-feet-4, roughly 250 pounds, walked up to the 50-inch flat screen TV – an older model – squatted down, bear hugged the TV, stood up, and carried it down the street to his house. He came back immediately and grabbed two large speakers.

One woman stood in the street, shaking her head in disbelief. Moments later she then told a younger man, probably a teenager, who was carrying a lawn chair to put it back. She didn’t need it.

Wiggins, who is running for his third term this November, said there’s not much anyone can do about a tenant’s stuff that’s left behind because those people have been given multiple notices to remove it before the eviction is finally served.

“They’ve been notified,” Wiggins said. “We can’t be expected to protect it the entire time.”