Pima County constables refuse to carry out evictions, citing coronavirus risks
All of the constables of Pima County declared Wednesday that they will no longer serve eviction papers on residents, citing the threat of transmitting coronavirus due to the many households they contact daily.
The 10 constables — law enforcement officers who serve court order, including evictions and orders of protection — issued a letter saying they "will not be conducting evictions until we have received adequate guidance from the Pima County Health Department and the Arizona Supreme Court" over how to proceed during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The asked the state Supreme Court to "take immediate action to halt all eviction proceedings until a state-wide set of protocols can be established to ensure the public's safety."
"We feel the gravity of this epidemic calls for immediate action to minimize infections in our state," the constables wrote in a letter provided to TucsonSentinel.com.
They said they "lack the training and the ability to procure minimum protective equipment necessary to reduce transmission from one household to another."
Constable Kristen Randall, of Justice Precinct 8 in Midtown, said that all of the constables will continue to serve all other criminal papers, including small claims notices, orders of protection and injunctions against harassment.
"It's really important that people know they can still get those orders," she told TucsonSentinel.com on Wednesday afternoon.
The difference between serving an order of protection and carrying out an eviction is significant, Randall said.
"With an order, I can just tear off a piece of paper and hand it to them, sometimes through a door," she said. "With an eviction, we have to clear those homes or apartments. We're going through closets and looking in cupboards to make sure there's nobody hiding inside. Sometimes we find them; we have to make sure the premises are totally vacant."
"With an order of protection, I can give them the rundown while making sure there's enough distance between us," she said.
"We don't have any decontamination protocols. Our office has had hand sanitizer on order for the past three weeks; we can't order it," she said.
The Constable's Office has been handling 120-130 evictions each week, Randall said.
"I did 30 last week, about 30 the week before," she estimated.
"And we're going from house to house to house, with no decontamination protocol between each one," Randall said. "Routinely I'm dealing with the elderly and disabled, people with children — some of the most vulnerable people in our community" when it comes to illness.
"I don't want to be a vector. I worry about my own personal health, and my family, and the people that we're dealing with," she said. "We have to enter the home with evictions."
The letter was signed by Presiding Constable Bennett Bernal, of Justice Precinct 6, joined by Associate Presiding Constable Randall, JP 8, and constables John Rademaker, JP 1; Esther Gonzalez, JP 2; Jose Gonzalez, JP 3; Oscar Vasquez, JP 4; Marge Cummings, JP 5; Thomas Schenek, JP 7; Joe Ferguson, JP 9; and Michael Stevenson, JP 10.
"Earlier today, President Trump ordered his administration to suspend all HUD-related foreclosures and evictions through April," they said. The city of Tucson has halted evictions in all city-run public housing, under an order from Mayor Regina Romero.
Randell pointed to the state "Constables Policies and Procedures Manual," which states that when dealing with an eviction, "The constable may elect to not remove the occupants immediately for good cause (e.g. minors are the only occupant(s), a person's health would be jeopardized by their immediate removal or any other extenuating circumstance.) In these cases, the party may be given more time to make arrangements."
Randall said that the Constable's Office is "still accepting the paperwork."
"I've been calling every single one of my property managers" who have eviction cases, she said, "telling them that we're awaiting guidance."
Randall said that none of the owners or managers she's told of the delay have yet complained.
"They understand that we're looking out for everybody," she said. "They're going to be hit financially, too; we're keeping them in the loop."