Eviction Of Mom, 88, Spirals Into Standoff

Cops say son pulled gun to stop foreclosure

The Record ( — Wednesday, August 13, 2008


SADDLE BROOK — The movers and sheriffs officers arrived at a Saddle Brook home on Tuesday morning to perform a task that has become no less painful even as it has become routine.

They came to evict an 88-year-old woman from the Adriana Street home she had lived in for decades. Beatrice Brennan had refinanced her home and fallen behind on payments. The house was sold May 16 at a sheriff's auction.

But the routine was shattered soon after the movers arrived when the homeowner's son, John Brennan – who neighbors said had been living in the home for two years – threatened the two Bergen County sheriffs officers with a .22-caliber handgun.

Real estate agent Donovan Stewart, who arrived moments after the police standoff ended, said he expected heartache. His job was to watch the movers pack up the last of the Brennans' possessions, then change the locks. He didn't sleep the night before, he said.

What happened exceeded his worst expectations. "I've never had anything like this happen before," Stewart said.

As the movers waited for a court-imposed 10 a.m. deadline before they could enter the modest one-story home, John Brennan, 60, pulled the gun from a plastic bag and pointed it at the sheriff's officers. The officers drew their weapons, too.

One of the officers approached Brennan, talking to him, while his partner moved off to the side, his weapon trained on Brennan, mover Vitaly Filipchenko said.

The movers jumped into their truck and did not know whether Brennan said anything, Filipchenko said. But they clearly heard the officers shouting at him. "Put your gun down!" they shouted.

Brennan held onto the gun for about five minutes, waving it up and down, while the officers kept their guns trained on him.

No one was injured in the five-minute standoff, which ended when a SWAT team arrived and Brennan was arrested. It only briefly delayed the eviction.

Though homeowners rarely resort to violence to fight foreclosures, experts say the housing crisis is causing more and more homeowners in North Jersey and the nation to resort to desperate measures.

"The first reaction is shock that they're actually in that situation," said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of Citizen Action in Newark, a statewide consumer watchdog organization that counsels homeowners in crisis. "The second reaction is like a panic."

A few homeowners have reacted violently. In Michigan, a man killed his wife early this month, set his house on fire and killed himself shortly after a bank began foreclosure proceedings.

In Massachusetts last month, a woman faxed a suicide note to her bank, then shot herself with her husband's rifle.

One of the sheriff's officers who talked Brennan into dropping his gun on Tuesday had witnessed a similar incident four years ago, when a Bergen County man shot himself during a foreclosure eviction, sheriffs spokesman Benjamin Feldman said. The bullet grazed the man's temple before officers could subdue him.

More common reactions include shock and disbelief.

Salowe-Kaye said her organization is counseling about twice as many homeowners as it did at this time last year. About half of the people who turn to the organization eventually lose their houses.

In the majority of the cases, Salowe-Kaye said, homeowners have fallen too far behind and have too little money saved to reverse the process.

Stewart said Brennan had been looking for ways to keep his mother's two-bedroom home, worth about $250,000, for about two months.

His search ended Tuesday.

As neighbors gathered on the street, police escorted him to a Sheriffs Department van. His mother followed, leaning on two emergency medical technicians, who loaded her into a waiting ambulance though she appeared to be uninjured.

"I'm heartbroken over this," said Vincent Carabello, a neighbor of 37 years. "How could this happen?"

Then the movers came out, carrying boxes and pieces of furniture wrapped in plastic.

Staff Writer Michael J. Feeney contributed to this article.

By the numbers

– Kathleen Lynn

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