“You’re allowed to touch their stuff.”
“You’re allowed to take their cell phones (and) grab their computer”
In text messages, police say Mountain View landlord Reenu Saini told her accomplices to do whatever it took to kick out tenants who she said were behind on rent. As detailed in the Mountain View police report, she wanted at the very least to “scare” them into thinking they had just 30 minutes to pack up and leave the Rock Street apartment that she managed on Monday night.
Lori Ann Waltson, who worked for Saini as a house cleaner, later told to police that it seemed fair game to kick out tenants who couldn’t pay rent.
“We didn’t come to be violent, we came to be convincing,” she told police officers, according to the report.
The intimidation plan backfired. Saini and four others whom she recruited to act as hired muscle were arrested while still outside the apartment Monday, Aug. 26, on charges of conspiracy, attempted robbery and burglary among other charges. Mountain View police described it as an unprecedented level of criminal disregard toward the tenants.
The incident was terrorizing for the victims, a married couple and two children, according to the report. The family’s father, whom the Voice is not identifying, told police they had been living in the unit for only two weeks after moving out from North Carolina. But they were struggling to make ends meet and couldn’t pay rent. They had been trying to resolve their dispute with Saini through a city-appointed mediator, but there were signs she was running out of patience.
Just a few days earlier, the family had caught a man snooping through their backyard taking pictures. When confronted, the man reportedly claimed to work for Saini, and ran off before police arrived at the scene.
The police report says that on Aug. 26, Saini texted Waltson, asking her to round up anyone she could find to make a show of force, “just like last time.”
“I want to go in with 10 people. Who can you bring and when?” she texted. “The police have already said they will not interfere with that. I’m the legal lease holder.”
Still, Saini told Waltson that they needed to grab the tenants’ cell phones first, otherwise “they’ll call the cops.” The best plan, she suggested, was to turn off the power breaker, forcing the family to come outside.
Via text, Saini expressed disappointment when Waltson told her that she could only find three others to come along. But Waltson assured her they could do the job because they needed the money. Saini reportedly promised they could stay at the apartment for free after ousting the family.
The family living at the apartment told police they first knew something was awry when the television and all the lights went out. Then the father said he glanced out the front-door peephole and he saw a burly man striding toward the door “with intention.”
The man, identified as Steven Carling of San Jose, began demanding they open the door to let him in. Carling, who has a lengthy criminal record, was later described to police as someone who was known for getting so angry that he would black out. At the doorstep, Carling started to shout that he would “kick the f---ing door down!” according to police reports.
Carling started attacking the door, splintering the wood. Then he began thrusting a knife through the cracks, nearly stabbing the father, who was trying to brace the door from the other side. He later told police that the blade came within inches of his head.
After being detained by police, Carling told them that he was using a butter knife to try and undo the hinges of the door.
By this time, the rest of the family fled out the backdoor, and multiple 911 calls came into police dispatch of a burglary in progress. Their children later told police they were extremely scared; one said she felt like she was having a panic attack.
The first police officers to arrive on scene described seeing two women on the sidewalk, Waltson and Debra McNeil, Carling’s girlfriend. Carling was in the doorway of the apartment, and a fourth man, Brian Ross, was standing on the walkway leading up to the home. When Carling saw the police, he immediately tossed the knife to the ground and threw his hands up, according to the report.
Saini, who was also at the scene, told the police officers that the people inside the apartment had no right to the residence. She said she had already leased the apartment to Carling a few days earlier, but she recanted after being asked for proof, according to the police report. Then Saini said she had previously complained to police about the same family. She quickly invoked her right to an attorney, the police report noted.
When questioned, Waltson did not hesitate to show police the string of text messages from Saini laying out the forced-eviction plan.
Saini and the four accomplices were all arrested. Extra charges were given to Saini for illegally turning off the apartment power, and to Carling for attempted assault.
Three days later, Saini, wearing a striped jail uniform, was sitting in a courtroom jury box for her arraignment hearing at the Palo Alto courthouse. She nodded in response to a judge’s questions, hiding her face from a group of media cameras. Carling sat glumly next to her. No charges as of yet have been filed against the other three suspects.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Charles Wilson set Saini’s bail at $75,500. Her attorney protested that this would mean Saini would have to cancel her plans to travel abroad. For Carling, bail was set at $110,000, in part due to his criminal history. Both defendants were prohibited from having any contact with the victims.
The police report noted that before arriving at the apartment on Monday night, Raini sent one last text before she evicted her tenants: “I grabbed the numbers for some homeless shelters for them,” she wrote. “See, I’m so nice.”