When Robert Canoles and his son Branden saw two people trying to enter the foreclosed and empty home next door to them in Porterdale, Ga., they were quick to react. They held the unknown visitors at gunpoint, and waited for the Newton County Sheriff's deputies they'd summoned to arrive. The officers quickly arrested the strangers, charged them with loitering and prowling, and praised the Canoles for their actions.
But Jean-Joseph Kalonji, 61, and his wife Angelica, 57 (pictured) weren't prowlers. The couple's son had recently purchased the home in the small town about 35 miles east of Atlanta, and they were there to change the locks before moving in. After the Kalonjis' son, Bruno, was able to provide the documentation proving ownership of the property, the charges against the two were dropped.
"I cannot believe that six cops ended up here and none of them wanted to investigate the situation a little more," Bruno Kalonji told Atlanta's WXIA-TV. "They're looking at my parents as thieves at a home where there's nothing inside."
In a complete 180, police have since arrested the Canoles (whose mugshots are below) and charged them with aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal trespass.
The Kalonjis' attorney, Don Samuel, expressed dismay with the police officers' initial response. "They just spontaneously arrested him, arrested his wife, threw them in jail, made no phone calls, made no effort to verify the truthfulness of what they were saying, and told the people with the guns in essence, 'Thank you for your good service,' " Samuel told Georgia TV station WSB.
The deputies who arrested the Kalonjis are facing an internal investigation.
But perhaps the Canoles and the police weren't wrong to at least be suspicious. Squatters breaking into and occupying foreclosed houses are a real and widespread problem. Just last week, the occupants of a foreclosed home in Antioch, Calif., filed a case against a real estate agent who is trying to sell the house. They issued a temporary restraining order, making it illegal for her to be within 50 yards of the property.
The purported squatters "never ever paid my client," real estate agent Melissa Case explained to KTVU. "Actually, the police came out and verified that their rental agreement is false and filled with misspellings."
Among the more outrageous squatter-related tales in the last year:
• It was reported last month that a tax-aided New York City homeless advocacy group has been teaching homeless people how to squat in vacant properties.
• Alleged squatters in Miami were found with drugs, handguns, grenades, and a pig.
• A huge marijuana growing operation was discovered in a vacant, foreclosed house after it caught on fire in Reche Canyon, Calif. And there are reports of even more foreclosed homes are being turned into pot gardens.
• In Fort Worth, Texas, a man claimed a vacant $2.7 million mansion as his own. And another wrote an e-book about how to possess an empty house by exploiting an obscure Texas law, but was later kicked out of the foreclosed dwelling that he claimed as his own.
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