On August 3, 2009, Colin Kent approached the front door of his home in the Lakefront Mobile Home Park in Lakeside that he shared with his middle-aged son to find an eviction notice. Kent, who was 88, had just returned home from a meeting with his son’s probation officer at which his son had been arrested on an outstanding felony warrant. Unable to drive and with his primary caregiver in custody, Kent had called a friend for a ride home.
The eviction notice was taped to the aluminum siding. Kent tried to insert his key into the lock, but it wouldn’t fit. The lock was broken and the door was stuck. After several attempts, he pried the door open. He stepped inside and found his home in disarray: furniture on its side, papers scattered across the floor, his son’s guitars thrown on the ground, boxes of belongings upended, the contents spilling out on the floor.
“The house was in shambles. The beds were all torn apart. The drawers were all pulled out. Everything was strewn all over,” said Kent during a June 10 interview at his new mobile home on Los Coches Road East, north of El Cajon. Kent sat at a small dining room table near the kitchen. On the walls of the mobile home were wooden carvings of birds. Two medals Kent received while serving in the Canadian Army during World War II hung on the living room wall.
“I thought we’d been burglarized, you see,” recalled Kent. “They tore the bloody place apart.” His voice quivered and his hands trembled as he described the scene. Kent, a former employee of Host International at Lindbergh Field, was tall despite a slouch in his back. His full head of white hair was combed straight back. He wore cutoff shorts and a white pinstriped button-down shirt. His rolled-up sleeves revealed black and blue freckles and scars on both arms. The octogenarian said he was prone to diabetic seizures. He was quick to let you know his age and his ailments but did so in a joking manner.
His son Christopher stood in the kitchen wearing shorts and a tank top. His straight, gray hair hung to his shoulders. He fidgeted while his father described that day last August.
Once inside his home, Kent stepped over the objects on the floor and went straight to his bedroom to check his safe, where he kept his most valuable possessions: the pieces of jewelry that he and his wife, who passed away in 2006, had purchased for each other during their 65-year marriage; rare coins that he collected; and what he called Hummels, decorative porcelain figurines his wife had purchased during their trips to Europe. Kent kept the keys to the safe’s many compartments in a copper tray on top of his desk. The keys were missing. He searched his home but couldn’t find them.
“I was panicky. You know, I’m old,” said Kent. “I didn’t know who the hell to call.”
He called the sheriff’s department to report the break-in. The dispatcher looked up his address and informed him that his house was not burglarized but was searched by federal agents.
The search came 13 months after Christopher, frustrated that a judge had denied his disability claim, had placed a call to the federal Office of Disability Adjudication and Review and left a message threatening the judge. According to an investigation report from the district attorney’s office, Christopher’s message was as follows: “Tell him I’m going to f*ing kill him. He will die if he doesn’t get out of town soon, and I mean soon.”
Christopher was charged under California penal code section 422, criminal threat. While he was being arrested, an investigator from the district attorney’s office and three federal agents from the Federal Protective Service — an agency under the Department of Homeland Security tasked with protecting federal buildings and the people inside them — entered Kent’s mobile home. Once inside, agents seized property from the residence. Later that day, four items were logged into court inventory. Those four items included one Sears Roebuck .22 LR rifle, a Ruger .22 LR pistol with a magazine clip with six rounds of ammo, one “green tinted pill bottle with a green, leafy substance inside,” and one medical marijuana identification card issued to Christopher Kent.
According to a “Municipal Court of California” inventory document, no keys were confiscated.
Colin Kent believed that the document was inaccurate. And he said the rifle and pistol belonged to him, not his son. But because of Christopher’s prior conviction, he was prohibited from having access to guns.
“They haven’t been fired in 30 or 40 years,” said Colin Kent. “I bought the rifle from Sears for $18, and one of my sons gave me the Ruger as a gift 35 years ago. But I don’t really care about the guns, anyways. I want my keys. I need money. I need to get in my safe so I can buy my medicine. I’m diabetic. I have seizures. I don’t even know what’s in the safe anymore. I have no idea what they took. I don’t know where my property is.”
One week after federal agents searched his home, Kent called the district attorney’s office to ask about his keys. “The district attorney told me to get a locksmith. I am broke, you see. I live off of Social Security, and it’s not enough. Plus, a locksmith won’t make those types of keys.”
In the following months, Kent wrote letters to California attorney general Jerry Brown. He called the Department of Homeland Security but didn’t receive a response. He wrote to Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, yet again his queries were unanswered. Kent and his son went to the FBI field office on Aero Drive.
“They wouldn’t let me in the building,” said Kent. “They sent a lady out to talk to us. She said she’d look into it and call me. They never did. They wanted nothing to do with me. I’m broke. I need my keys.”
On June 15, Kent received a letter from the state attorney general’s office. “We regret that we are unable to assist you,” said the letter, suggesting that Kent write to senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.
In a June 16 email, Matt Chandler, spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, responded to questions about the case. “In August 2009, Department of Homeland Security Federal Protective Service officials served a criminal warrant to an individual wanted for threatening a judge,” wrote Chandler. “Several items were confiscated, including firearms the individual was not allowed to possess due to a prior felony conviction. All confiscated items were cataloged according to protocol and an inventory was filed with the court. Federal Protective Service has no record of the aforementioned keys being confiscated.”
When asked if Kent would be allowed to retrieve his property or look for his keys in inventory, Chandler responded: “We do not have any further comment. If you need further information, I would suggest contacting the San Diego District Attorney’s Office.”
In a series of emails, Paul Levikow, spokesperson for the San Diego County district attorney’s office, directed all questions back to the Department of Homeland Security. “We were not the impounding agency, rather our District Attorney Investigator assisted the federal officers tasked with protection of administrative courts,” he wrote.
Asked if the district attorney’s office has a record of Kent’s requests for his property. Levikow responded, “No.”
When asked where the confiscated items were taken, Levikow responded, “DHS.”
On June 16, sitting at his small dining room table, Kent appeared frail. He held the letter from Attorney General Brown’s office and copies of the letters he wrote to the Department of Homeland Security. He was discouraged and convinced that he would never get answers from public officials. He said he had run out of options.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be getting my keys back,” said Kent. “It pisses me off. I am entitled to my property. It’s the law, but I can’t enforce it.”
Colin Kent died on June 29 after suffering a diabetic seizure.