In July, St. Johns attorney Greg Abbott sat down at the Starbucks on N Lombard with Neighborhood District Attorney Jim Hayden and North Precinct Officer Barry Hosier, to talk about an ongoing problem the neighborhood had been having with a meth house nearby.
They were looking to Abbott to help them shut the place down, and five months later, he did just that—by suing the owners of the house. Now he's on the lookout for more meth house owners to sue.
"Drug houses are a plague," he says. "I will close down every drug house I can, anywhere in Oregon—and I am willing to take risks to do it."
The house in question, a 1920s two-bedroom bungalow at 8625 N Hurst, near N Chautauqua in the Portsmouth neighborhood, has been the subject of much police attention over the last three years. The cops' official log of cases associated with the address stretches up to two pages, listing multiple counts of possible amphetamine use, identity theft, and disorderly conduct.
"People were coming and going at all hours, parking in our driveway and looking suspicious," says neighbor Erin Germann.
"They were up all hours of the day and night, playing loud music or working on cars at 4 am," another neighbor told the Mercury, on condition of anonymity. "I was afraid to go there and complain because I didn't know if they'd fly off the handle."
Cops raided the house on March 15, finding counterfeit money, checks, drugs, and a stolen vehicle—enough for them to declare the property a "chronic nuisance" under the city's code and charter. Then, during a second raid on April 26, they found more drugs and arrested three people for possession and distribution of controlled substances.
Portland has no shortage of suspected meth houses like the one on N Hurst, and while the city attorney's office is technically able to close them down, it's a time-consuming, costly process for the over-stretched office. The process is seldom used: The city's last successful closure of a house, in NE Portland, was two years ago and followed years of ongoing problems.
Abbott began talking to North Portland's Crime Prevention Coordinator Havilah Ferschweiler and some of the neighbors about filing a civil suit against the owner of the house, Nicolette Predko. Neighbors were too scared of possible retribution to put their name on the suit, Abbott says, so he sued Predko personally, under Oregon Statute 105.550. That law states that anyone living in the same county as a meth house can sue its owners to stop the activity.
It is easier for Abbott, as a private citizen, to close meth houses than it is for the city, which has a great burden of proof. Abbott only needs to prove the nuisance status on "a preponderance of the evidence," while the city is held to a higher "beyond all reasonable doubt," standard. The city attorney's office was unavailable for comment.
On September 6, a circuit court judge ordered the N Hurst house closed and banned Predko from the property. Predko—who has been unavailable for comment, and is reportedly living out of a bus—was subsequently unable to keep up mortgage payments on it and the house was sold on November 9. The new owners are reportedly planning to flip the house.
Meanwhile, Multnomah County Neighborhood District Attorney Hayden is happy Abbott stepped in.
"I don't want to be critical of the city attorney's office," Hayden says. "But we need them to be a partner with us in the community to solve these problems. For some reason it is difficult to obtain closure through the city, but these private lawsuits help us immensely."
Abbott says he has now been getting calls from other crime prevention coordinators wanting his help with problem houses.
"News of this is spreading fast through the community and it's a tool I can mention," acknowledges Crime Prevention Coordinator Ferschweiler. That said, she doesn't "feel comfortable telling people to sue their neighbors."
"So excitement for this needs to be tempered with the fact that people can be upset with a drug house, but really—are they upset enough to put their names down in a lawsuit? I don't think Greg wants to go around suing everybody himself."