A San Jose man involved in a brazen apartment break-in intended to force out a family accepted a plea deal and awaits sentencing in March, according to court documents.
Steven Carling, 53, pleaded no contest on Jan. 23 to assault with a deadly weapon -- a felony -- as well as two misdemeanors for making criminal threats and attempting to prevent victims from contacting police. The three counts carry a maximum prison sentence of four years, and do not include a first-degree burglary charge originally sought by prosecutors.
Carling was one of five people involved in what police described as a conspiracy to illegally oust tenants from an apartment on Rock Street in August last year. Text messages between two of the suspects, identified as 50-year-old Reenu Saini and 49-year-old Lori Walston, detail how Saini sought to use the confrontation as a chance to "kick them out" or at least "scare them up a bit," according to an exchange transcribed by officers.
The apartment was occupied at the time by a married couple and two children, who had been living in the apartment for only a few weeks. During the attack, the family escaped through a back door and was found a short distance away on Rengstorff Avenue.
Saini allegedly coordinated the plans and arrived with the accomplices outside of the apartment on the evening of Aug. 26, and gave explicit instructions via text message to take the family's cellphones to keep them from calling the cops, according to a police report. Saini cut the power to the apartment, which she said could help "smoke" them out, according to text messages.
Carling's role in the operation was one of brute force: Police say witnesses and one of the accomplices -- a friend of Carling -- confirmed that he tried to force his way into the apartment by striking the front door, though the stories on how this was carried out differ. The friend told officers that Carling did not have any weapons or tools, and had knocked first to warn tenants to get out of the way because he intended to kick down the door.
The victims painted a different picture, describing how Carling attacked the door and splintered the wood. At one point he began thrusting a knife through a crack, nearly stabbing the father of the family who was bracing the door from the other side. Police arriving at the apartment saw Carling still holding a metal object that matched the description of the knife, and officers say his actions amounted to assault with a deadly weapon.
Carling was released from county jail on his own recognizance on Jan. 23 on condition that he agree to appear in court for sentencing on March 20. He served a previous prison term after his 2012 conviction for felony possession of a stolen vehicle in Santa Clara County.
The case against Saini, who is accused of burglary and unlawfully turning off the apartment's power, is still ongoing, and she is due to appear in court on March 16 for a preliminary hearing. In an interview with the Voice last year, Saini defended her eviction attempt and described how she was a lessee of the apartment and rented the unit out to others for short-term stays. Up to the Aug. 26 break-in, she said she had been losing money because the tenants had not been paying rent.
Saini said she was seeking $10,000 in monthly rent for the two-bedroom apartment, significantly higher than the $3,900 the family claims it had originally agreed to pay.