We told them we're the wrong people and they don't believe us. How to stay safe?
November 27, 2012 7:21 AM   Subscribe

Gang members think someone who owes them money lives at our house. They are wrong and we told them so twice. Then they came back at night and threw a brick through our window. We immediately went to a hotel and have already signed a rental agreement elsewhere. However, I am scared to go pack up the house. Is that rational, and if so, what recourse do we have?

My husband and I have lived at our house a year. We were burglarized earlier this year and installed ADT and four cameras on a separate system. Other than that we have had no issues. Then last Friday before the week of Thanksgiving two high school kids showed up on our security camera ringing the doorbell excessively. It seemed a little weird how much they were ringing it, and that they had cell phones but did not attempt to call whoever they were looking for when no one answered the door. We only noticed the footage because they did not securely close the gate and we saw it was open when we got back. We vaguely wondered if they were casing the house but thought maybe it was just a mistake.

A couple days later two different high school kids came to the door when I was home. They asked for a generic male American name (this will be relevant later) and I said no one by that name lives there. (I asked our landlord and no previous tenants do either). They left. When we got two more high school kids a few days later we got very suspicious; when we went to review the footage to see if it was one of the kids I had spoken to, we saw a third kid on another camera had jumped our fence and peered into the windows while I had spoke to the first two! So we got all the footage and sent it to the police, saying we feared they were trying to see if anyone was home over Thanksgiving. The police told us to call them if they showed up again.

Well last Saturday in the afternoon a high school kid showed up with a middle-aged rough looking guy. My husband and I both answered the door instead of calling the police because we wanted to make it very clear we were home. The adult first attempted to speak to us in a foreign language from the general area of the world he and all the high school students are descended from, and which my husband and I do not know. It is not a common language like Spanish that it might be expected we would know despite being white, but my husband and I do know another entirely different language from that same general region of the world and I know that the gangs of this race do sometimes deal with white people that may speak that language, or they may expect to speak that language. I hate to bring race into it but it's relevant: if they are looking for someone white we are definitely in danger, but if they're looking for someone that shares their ethnicity literally EVERY friend that could help us move would be in danger because nearly all our friends are that ethnicity. :( The guy they are looking for has a generic American male name so there's no way to know.

This guy switched to English and said he was given our address and that he used to be in business with this guy, but the guy bailed on him. So apparently this guy owes him money and he sent at least seven high school kids to our door for a week to shake him down before he showed up in person. That seems pretty serious. We still thought we were either being cased, or that the matter was settled because the guy said, "I guess he gave me a bad address." However, he was adamant that it was our address he was given.

Well, just after midnight a brick was thrown through our bedroom window. When we heard the glass break we thought it was a burglar so we ran at the window screaming, but since no one was there and could not have gotten away that fast, I checked to see what had broken the window and found the brick wrapped up in the curtains. It had a note in gang calligraphy saying to call a person with a name very clearly of the ethnicity the (assumed) gang members all shared.

We called the police, gave them what little footage we had left, and they took the brick. We have security doors that we never opened when speaking to the people who visited. The police think the gang is most likely looking for someone of their own ethnicity and never saw that we were white because of the door. They probably saw me through the windows but it wouldn't be that unusual for the guy to have a white girlfriend so I guess that wasn't enough. The police admitted it's possible they were looking for a white person who spoke theie language, but thinks the whole issue would probably be cleared up if they could plainly see us. Needless to say, I'm not keen on opening our security doors to them ever.

We immediately went to a hotel and signed a rental agreement elsewhere but I am scared to pack. Obviously this guy they're looking for isn't going to call the person on the note: he didn't get the note and lied about his address. It seems unlikely they woild go through all this trouble and give up rather than further escalate things, and they are apparently convinced we're the right people despite not speaking that language and not having that name and having norhing to do with any gangs whatsoever. (No, my husband doesn't have anything to do with it, and yes, I'm 100% sure.) I am scared for our safety, and for the safety of any friends who would help us move. I have already refused their help and explained why I thought they would be in danger.

I have considered getting movers that will pack too, but they are WAY cost prohibitive. Paying the security deposit, first month's rent, hotel, and normal movers will have beyond wiped us out. It's not an option.

Friends have suggested asking the police to escort us, but is it really reasonable to ask them to stick around for normal work hours a few days while we pack? It's a three bedroom house and it just seems like a LOT of time. If we were just running in to grab a few boxes I could wrap my head around it. Is that something we can ask of them and how likely are they to do it? I'm also doubtful because they seem to think if the gang members come by and see we're white everything will be cool, but frankly that's not a risk I'm willing to take and I'm sure as hell not going to open the door so they can try to hurt/kidnap me because they think I'm this dude's girlfriend or something. I'm also not willing to risk that they might be looking for a white guy, or that they may send lackies to just "hurt the guy at [our address]" who wouldn't even know my husband is obviously the wrong guy.

Any advice is helpful, this situation is really scary and I'm not sure if I'm being irrational or not. Do gang members throw bricks through windows and then give up? Because that would be great to know.

(No need for advice dealing with the current landlord; the couple loves us and we love them, and they are 100% sympathetic and not charging us anything to leave.)

I'm in the greater Los Angeles area.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (25 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Thats a doozy. I would definitely request the police, I bet they'd send a patrol car to sit outside your house while you're moving. This sounds like you're being harassed often enough to warrant a police escort for any remaining time you have to be at the home.

I'd expect though that if they see you moving really quick, they're going to assume the person they're looking for is bugging out and will try to follow you. I can't give any advice of how to resolve this misunderstanding, but I think if you just try to run away from it it will haunt you. This may just be white-people middleclass fearmongering but I'd expect the next step up from bricks are bullets.
posted by el_yucateco at 7:36 AM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Gather up as many friends and acquaintances as possible to help you move in a single day.

1. Many hands make light and fast work.
2. Safety in numbers; someone looking to make a ruckus is less likely to approach a large group.
posted by DWRoelands at 7:37 AM on November 27, 2012 [10 favorites]

I think that gang members are not a monolithic entity. Some might throw a brick and then leave it alone. Others might burn the house down. It is really hard to say what will happen, and it is perfectly reasonable to be concerned in this situation, even concerned enough to move.

I think the ethnicity stuff is a red herring, and that the police were wrong to so blithely assure you that if the gang saw you were white they would leave you alone. I think you can, however, easily request police protection for the move - if they don't agree, all you're out is a phone call.
posted by corb at 7:37 AM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would call the police. It depends on how crazy the gang mentality is, in my past experience, you can't imagine what they will do. They may throw a brick and let you settle with that for a while and come back to do something else. Better safe than sorry. Call the cops.
posted by Yellow at 7:44 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Of course ask for police protection for the move. Look, I don't know where you live, but I did a police ride-along in my community a few years ago and the officer spent his day on stuff including giving a ride to a girl who'd had an argument with her friends and taking a report about an old guy with dementia who'd wandered out of the senior center but come back. He would have been stoked to have something as useful as monitoring a gang violence situation to do.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:46 AM on November 27, 2012 [14 favorites]

Call your community liason officer immediately and explain. Simulataneously escalate to your city council person's office, and the head of the precinct, as well. I've gotten the LAPD to show up for a tenant's move out for far far less than the violence you are reporting. Frankly, this is outrageous.

Also. Do you have renter's insurance? Some of this expense may be covered. I dunno. Check your policy? Specifically, possibly the hotel is covered.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 7:48 AM on November 27, 2012 [12 favorites]

I'd guess that the best way to resolve this is to convince them that they've got the wrong people, assuming their story really is aligned with their intent.

Call your community support officer and find out who to speak to regarding gang crime. It's possible they could put the word out that this really is some kind of mistaken identity.

Additionally, if this involves an ethnic group that's large enough in your area, maybe they also have some kind of gang outreach program?
posted by dubold at 7:54 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Piping up to reiterate the point about reaching out to gang unit and community liaison officers. It is completely appropriate to ask for help in this situation. That the officers who responded thought that if the gang members were super-duper sure that you're not of the same ethnic group seems ... I dunno, like overworked detectives passing the buck or something. I used to live in a gang area in LA (years ago) and it definitely seemed like the gang unit officers were pretty heavily invested in making sure that gang stuff did not overspill into regular-citizen stuff.

I suspect that the gang members are well aware that you don't owe them any debt, but since they've started up the campaign of intimidation they might as well see what they can squeeze out of you. So I don't think you're being irrational and it's wise to move.
posted by stowaway at 8:08 AM on November 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

It's certainly worth it to ask the police for protection. Be persistent if they try to brush you off.

Regardless, make a plan in advance for Packing Day and Moving Day to go, managing as many details as possible. Turn this into a well-organized machine -- it will give you something concrete and achievable to focus on.

Pick a day, plan to start early, and arrange for as many friends as you can to help. Extra people can stand sentry near the doors (from inside, I mean) and windows to keep an eye on the street. And if anyone is watching the house, they will be less likely to try anything if people seem well-organized and purposeful, rather than chaotic.

Meanwhile, gather your boxes and packing materials, including blankets to wrap around furniture. Print room-name labels that can be slapped on each box after it's packed. You can even pre-label some of the boxes for things of a predictable size -- for instance, which boxes would be best for dishes. Remember that you want heavy things to go into smaller boxes. Make a list for each room of items/areas that you would prefer to pack up yourself, such as things that are fragile, special heirlooms, private, etc.
posted by desuetude at 8:32 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

If people are throwing bricks through your window, it is more than reasonable to request police presence while you pack and move. Look at it this way; all they need to do is chill in the police car and drink coffee for a few hours. It'll be a nice day for them. This is what they are for, and if it's an unreasonable request or something they or their budget can't accommodate, they will simply refuse the request. (And hopefully offer some suggestions).

I think you should absolutely ask the police for their presence and help with this issue and at least get their advice on how to protect yourselves. I'm sorry this happened; it must be scary and difficult for you.
posted by windykites at 8:37 AM on November 27, 2012

Absolutely police. I lived in this situation a few years ago - only then it was just me and my German Shepherd. I would not have felt safe in my house had it not been for my (deceptively) big and scary dog.

I'd heard stories about the previous residents, and a few times I'd witnessed people sitting in cars on the street in front of my house, watching. Twice I had people come to my door looking for someone. One day the police showed up with photographs, asking if I'd "seen these people" - the former residents. I said no, and told the officer about the people on the street and those that came to the door. Looking seriously at me, the officer said that i needed to call the non-emergency number if I witnessed anything like that in the future. I don't know what the police were up to (building a case?) but I swore that I'd help if I could. You should call the police and tell them what's going on.

Luckily (?), the house I was living in went into foreclosure not long after that and I had to move out after only living there for six months.

It's good that you're moving out. Round up as many people as possible to help, and get it done in one day.

Before you go though...do a quick search of the property. The former residents in my house were drug dealers. When I found that out my friend and I searched the house top-to-bottom (including removing all outlet plates, etc) looking for forgotten stashes of cash. Unfortunately, we didn't find anything. Bummer! It would have been a nice consolation prize for me having to deal with all that crap.
posted by Elly Vortex at 8:41 AM on November 27, 2012

Don't totally surprised if the regular police can't attend your move out date, but the police department really should have no excuse not to provide a crime liaison employee or a community service officer.
posted by lstanley at 8:48 AM on November 27, 2012

I'm sure you mean it would have been important evince that you would have immediately turned over to the police.

When you forward your mail - forward it to a PO box.
posted by bq at 9:23 AM on November 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

I have had cops hang out in a perfectly safe neighborhood while I got a relative out of the house because her husband was hitting her. They had no problem doing so, even though it took a while to get her and her stuff packed.

In your case, there's no reason why they shouldn't be willing to help you. Better to do that then to have to deal with a crime after the fact.
posted by emjaybee at 9:30 AM on November 27, 2012

Yes, call a police escort. I just went through something like this and the police hung out all day, didn't rush me, and even helped move some stuff. This wasn't LA, though...
posted by TinWhistle at 9:32 AM on November 27, 2012

If the police (or, depending on where you are, sheriff's deputies) won't provide security in this situation, you can call local TV news desks and tell them all about it. Nobody's going to pester you with a satellite truck in front of the house. But yeah, first call your Senior Lead Officer and the local police gang unit. You shouldn't be getting blown off.
posted by Scram at 9:35 AM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I moved out of a hostile living situation by calling a police escort, having a large group of very tall and burly men (casino security guard friends = helpful!) help me move, and doing it all within an hour or two at 5 AM on Sunday morning.

Good luck on getting this all sorted out, what a scary situation.
posted by moons in june at 9:52 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Call the fucking mayor and newspapers. The police aren't doing their job.
posted by rhizome at 9:53 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

For sure call the police to see if they can arrange for protection while you move.

The other option is to see if you can hire a police officer to work security for your move. An off duty cop may be available for rent if the local precinct can't allocate an officer to watch over your move.

Get as many people as you can to help.

This is terrible, I'm so sorry it's happening to you. If I were in your area, I'd come help you pack.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:55 AM on November 27, 2012

What a terrible situation.

Please call your LA City Council representative. You can find out who they are by looking at this map: http://navigatela.lacity.org/common/mapgallery/pdf/council_districts/CDindex.pdf.

If you run into any problems, feel free to PM me. I don't live in LA anymore but may be able to help.
posted by JuliaKM at 10:18 AM on November 27, 2012

In addition, while I definitely agree with the suggestions above -- I'm going to offer one not already mentioned which you might consider in addition to police involvement.

I lived for a while in a NYC neighborhood with a heavy ethnic population and rumors of organized crime. The folks in the neighborhood, generally speaking, were fairly close knit and speaking to your neighbors and befriending the guys at the corner store was a fairly normal thing to do. If I were having this sort of problem in that old neighborhood, I would mention my problem to as many of my neighborhood friends and acquaintances as I could -- both so that my neighbors knew what was happening and to spread the word that guy who does not live there does not live there and you do not know him. Word of mouth is a pretty powerful thing and while you may not directly know the guys who think they know guy who does not live there -- it is possible that someone in the neighborhood can help you move the message along. I also would carry this message with a non-confrontational but concerned tone.

My (old) neighborhood is not your neighborhood and you should definitely take whatever steps you feel are necessary to be safe.
posted by countrymod at 1:33 PM on November 27, 2012 [8 favorites]

Update? Please let us know you are safe.

Memail if you are still having trouble with the LAPD. I have some contacts there, not many, but maybe enough.
posted by jbenben at 11:46 PM on November 27, 2012

When my sister got divorced, her husband started throwing around wild, threatening talk. On the day he was supposed to show up and get his stuff, the police sent a pair of "Protecting the Peace" officers who kept us company for a good 5+ hours, no problem. We called and made the request the day before and only had to explain why we were concerned about our safety. This was a Nebraskan suburb and not L.A., but I'd assume most police departments have some kind of similar service.
posted by ninjakins at 6:58 AM on November 28, 2012

Make sure your forward your mail to a PO Box, not your new address.
posted by k8t at 2:31 AM on December 1, 2012

Mod note: From the OP:
Thank you everyone for your answers! We are safely moved. Here are some updates for the curious:

- I didn't mean to give the impression that the police weren't doing their job or something (it wasn't LAPD, btw), just that I wasn't sure if standing around watching us move was something they'd be willing to do. The case was assigned to a doppelganger of Hank from Breaking Bad, so that was kind of cool. The morning after I posted this question he called my husband before we went over to the old place to pack, and he met us there and watched us pack and watched to see if the gang returned (we never saw the gang again). He told us that a gang member with the first name of the guy the gang was looking for was "associated" with our address for this year and the last, which is weird because we moved in late last year. He said either the guy had gotten mail there before, or he told the address to a probation officer, or something. So a gang member was seriously telling people he lived at our address.

- The last name of the gang member could have been at least three different ethnicities, including white and the ethnicity of our friends we were concerned for, but the officer gave us enough information and instructions that we felt safe packing up when it was still daylight out, and ultimately our friends wanted to help us move anyway. We did it on a Saturday so there'd be lots of people around and it went by without incident.

- We ended up moving to a neighborhood way closer to my husband's job and which is extremely safe; I've wanted to live in this neighborhood ever since we moved to California. The rent is $50 cheaper a month and in a beautiful area, though the house is significantly smaller (maybe half the size) and we had to get rid of a lot of stuff. Moving was expensive but not as expensive as it could have been (having to stay in a hotel for a week was the biggest chunk of our cost), and we got most of our old deposit back. Overall we're extremely happy with this new neighborhood so things seem to have worked out for the best. :-)

Thanks again!
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:43 PM on December 10, 2012 [13 favorites]

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