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Friday, June 2, 2023
June 2, 2023

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Ballard eviction underscores process’s complexities


Editor’s note: This story references suicide. If you or a loved one is in crisis, resources are available here.

Court records detailing the Ballard eviction of a 29-year-old woman who died by suicide Monday after a violent encounter with King County sheriff’s deputies underscore the complexities of the eviction process and the limits of available government assistance.

A King County Superior Court judge in December had ordered Eucytus, who went by one name, to be evicted from her apartment in the 800 block of Northwest 54th Street — the culmination of a monthslong process. But gunfire ensued when three deputies arrived Monday to deliver the eviction after a Seattle moratorium on winter evictions expired.

One of the deputies, Detective David Easterly, was hit in the upper torso and taken to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, where he remained in critical condition Tuesday. After a standoff lasting roughly two hours, authorities found Eucytus, who also went by “Eucy,” dead in her home.

The Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Tuesday that she died by suicide. (The Seattle Times names people who died by suicide only under limited circumstances — for instance, when the death occurs during a high-profile news event.)

Detectives Benjamin Wheeler and Benjamin Miller were not hurt. Evidence indicated all three deputies “probably returned fire,” the King County Independent Force Investigation Team said in a news release. The exact sequence of the shootout wasn’t immediately clear.

The involvement of deputies from the agency’s Civil Process Unit is often the final step in the eviction process, which typically begins when a landlord issues a two-week notice to pay rent or vacate the property and in some instances can involve months of civil proceedings.

While rents remain high and the number of homeless Seattle residents continues to rise, Eucytus’ eviction records paint a portrait of someone whose housing was destabilized by the COVID-19 pandemic and whose eviction was initially delayed by rental relief and eviction moratoriums.

King County Superior Court records show that her eviction began in the fall, when the owner of her apartment complex, Gilman Park Plaza, filed an eviction over $6,335 in overdue rent, utilities and fees.

A judge in December ruled in favor of the landlord but said Eucytus couldn’t be removed before March 1, to honor Seattle’s moratorium on winter evictions.

John Ibanez, the apartment complex’s property manager, declined to comment Tuesday.

According to a tenant ledger submitted to court, Eucytus had lived in the unit since at least April 2019 and paid the monthly rent of $1,150 and other necessary fees until June 2020. By January 2022, just a month before the city’s pandemic eviction moratorium would expire, records show Eucytus had accumulated $25,600 in overdue rent, utilities and fees.

That month, the King County Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Program paid $15,360 to the apartment owners, amounting to the program’s maximum payment of one year of rent. As part of the program’s agreements, the sum would satisfy Eucytus’ full rent balance between March 2020 and April 2022; she was ultimately set to be evicted over $6,355 in unpaid rent accrued after April.

A lawyer from the Housing Justice Project, which represents tenants facing eviction, argued in court documents that Eucytus had been financially unstable since the start of the pandemic, when her machining classes at South Seattle College were canceled. According to a court declaration, Eucytus said she had unsuccessfully applied to jobs, didn’t have the technical degree necessary to secure a position in the industry and had no income.

“If evicted, I will be irreparably harmed as I do not have family or friends to help and am facing homelessness,” Eucytus said in a court declaration.

The attorney representing Eucytus’ landlord argued Eucytus did not sufficiently establish financial hardship because she didn’t state what jobs she applied for — or provide bank statements verifying her income level or evidence that she had applied for government benefits, according to court documents.

When a tenant owes unpaid rent, a landlord typically issues a two-week notice to pay rent or vacate the property. If the tenant hasn’t paid or vacated when that time is up, the landlord can initiate civil proceedings. And if the landlord prevails, a judge will order the writ of restitution.

Sheriff’s deputies serve such orders to tenants at the request of their landlords, and if the tenants haven’t left within three days, the landlord can ask deputies to schedule a physical eviction. Then, a deputy is present to remove tenants and to stand by to “assure the peace,” but not to move property, according to the King County Sheriff’s Office.

The exact time frame in which the King County Sheriff’s Office executes evictions, once the paperwork authorizing them has been issued, can vary.

The agency warns on its website that “due to unit staffing shortages coupled with the hazardous nature of the orders we’re receiving, we need approximately 50 days to serve and enforce the writ.”

Edmund Witter, senior managing attorney for the Housing Justice Project, said in the cases his office has handled, the Sheriff’s Office took about 10 to 14 days to execute most writs.

Witter said he sees Monday’s gunfire and the death of Eucytus as “a very preventable tragedy.”

Once someone receives the maximum amount of rent assistance and falls behind on rent again, they have few options for financial help, Witter said, declining to comment further on the specifics of Eucytus’ case.

The cost of moving and renting a new apartment can be out of the question, and most homelessness assistance “doesn’t really work unless you’re actually homeless,” he said. While existing rent assistance programs help tenants pay off debts up to a certain point, too many people still struggle to afford high housing costs, Witter said.

“We don’t have the social services network to help people who are on the verge of eviction,” he said. “We don’t have the safety net at this time.”

A friend of Eucytus, Rachel Kay, said she had known for weeks that her friend was facing eviction and had exhausted all legal and financial relief. Kay said Eucytus, a transgender woman, was afraid of becoming homeless.

Kay grew concerned Monday morning when Eucytus stopped texting her, and she hastily took a cab to the apartment to help. When she saw the massive police response, she feared the worst.

Kay said she met Eucytus over four years ago through their involvement in the Seattle chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Eucytus was passionate about social justice, animal rights, helping the poor and ending racism, she said.

The Seattle DSA said in a statement that organizers support peaceful, mass resistance against evictions and “deeply regret” that the eviction “ended with gunfire, injury, and death, regardless of who initiated it.”

Kay remembered one instance early in the pandemic when Eucytus spent over an hour talking to her after a particularly emotional and fraught day.

“I want people to remember that they were a person committed to making a better world, but ultimately they couldn’t care for themselves,” Kay said of Eucytus, who used she/they pronouns. “They couldn’t get the help that they needed.”