BUTTE — After years of lawless behavior at problem properties in Butte, residents may finally be getting relief soon, but are still waiting.
The Butte Elementary gym was packed on Oct. 23 with residents looking for answers on what to do about squatting neighbors at problem properties. The meeting with community members, law enforcement, elected officials and Borough staff answered many of the important questions about what already has been and could be done about the vagrant neighbors, but Butte residents still don’t have an answer for when their neighborhood will be free from the problem neighbors.
“It is really sad that our beautiful areas have come to this,” Rep. Cathy Tilton said.
Problem properties exist in two areas on Bodenburg Loop in Butte. Alaska State Trooper Sergeant Ron Hayes told Butte residents that AST also has to monitor illegal activity at similar ‘compounds’ in Big Lake and at two locations near Sutton. Neighbors also complained about illegal and unsafe behavior. Residents reported cars parked in the ditch that stayed there for days at a time, leaving a trail of needles when they finally did leave. Butte residents have found hunting arrows shot onto their property, had screws strewn about their driveways and witnessed criminal activity from their own homes. As a result of the continued criminal activity at ‘the compounds,’ AST B Detachment Captain Tony April told Butte residents that he meets regularly with Butte Community Council President Daryl Dreher. April also gave out his personal phone number to the entire crowd, asking for reports of criminal activity at the ‘compound.’
“We understand your frustration but It’s not just a Trooper problem or a borough problem, it’s all of our problem,” April said.
Understaffed Troopers have been unable to find probable cause for criminal charges on multiple occasions and the squatters have remained a nuisance to neighbors. Compounding the problem is the lack of movement from the civil lawsuit filed by the Mat-Su Borough in 2018. Borough Attorney Nick Spiropolous said that the borough brought junk and trash citations that had been piling up since 2015 against the compound on the property owners by Mason Henry and Raymond Close in 2018. After the complaint was filed in superior court on September 19 of 2018, Henry was served on October 9. The court ordered that the property be cleaned up and proved to be compliant by January 3 of 2019.
“If you don’t show up to fight against us we’re going to win and we’re going to win everything we can win,” Spiropolous said.
When that did not occur, the borough attorneys moved toward a default judgement on the case in March of this year. Spiropolous said that process servers attempted to serve Henry for nearly a month with no luck. Though he had not responded to the lawsuit against him, Henry called the borough attorney’s offices twice on March 28 and April 1. Responding to a court clerk reply that the court required a more detailed affidavit, the borough filed that affidavit on July 2. Mason Henry called again on July 22 but was not present for a complaint hearing for eviction of the squatters on August 5. The borough ultimately filed their motion for the default judgement of $837,000 in citations, $14,500 in legal fees and six percent interest near the end of August.
“On September 21 the court issued a notice that said I haven’t heard from the defendant, I’m going to rule on this case in 14 days if you don’t answer. Well that date was October 7 and we’re still waiting. So that’s where we are on the case, the court has given notice of intent to rule said they were going to rule on October 7 and that didn’t happen and of course in the meantime the house burned down,” Spiropolous said. “Our case is about remedying the violation on the property and from the borough’s perspective, moreover from the attorney’s perspective we don’t care if he’s out of state. We don’t care if it’s hard for him to do, he’s supposed to comply with the law and we’re not going to drop our case unless or until he does.”
Spiropolous said that remarkably, taxes had been paid on the property up until recently. While the pending ruling on the lawsuit filed by the borough against Henry and Close may allow Troopers to evict squatters on the problem property, Butte residents are still anxious to act as they already have. As a result of suspicious drug activity, one bus stop had to moved away from the problem property. One mother said that she doesn’t allow her kids to play in the front yard and said that she lives in fear of the nuisance neighbors. In an attempt to help curtail the short staffed Troopers, one resident asked if citizens could be deputized. Senator Shelley Hughes suggested that more people apply for the Trooper academy, and another resident suggested a more organized Neighborhood Watch. While many of the answers received on Wednesday at Butte Elementary were not the ones residents were looking for, many were relieved to hear that at least one problem may be solved soon.
“If we have that writ of assistance, we’ll come in and we’ll kick them out,” Hayes said. “I’ll come in on my off day and work for free to do that.”