Two days of civil disobedience to save the Bible Way Apostolic Church from foreclosure ended yesterday when Contra Costa sheriff’s deputies arrested Pastor Sydney Keys, his wife, mother and two other activists. Members of the congregation took turns keeping the building continuously occupied since they received an eviction notice on March 9 telling them they had to leave the building by this Wednesday.
The church has been embroiled in a dispute with its mortgage holder, Torrey Pines Bank, and has fallen behind on its $6,800 monthly payments.
Gracie Ivy, who has been a part of the congregation for nearly six years, was in the church cooking a meal for Mary Keys, the pastor’s mother, and waiting for the pastor and his wife to return from San Francisco when the sheriff’s deputies arrived.
“He told me, kept telling me you gotta turn the food off, you gotta leave, you’re being evicted,” Ivy said. She said she was tricked into leaving the building and was not allowed back in. She said felt terrible for leaving the pastor’s mother alone in the church.
Shortly after Ivy left the church, the pastor and his wife arrived. They were arrested along with Mary Keys.
Dozens watched from outside the locked gate shouting “Let them go!” and “Save our church!” as Dr. Keys and his 80-year old mother were led in handcuffs from the church and put into a police car. Patrice Keys, the pastor’s wife, was led out shortly afterward, as protesters, including Mayor McLaughlin’s aide Marilyn Langlois, pleaded with the deputies and argued that the arrest was unjust.
“What good will it do to arrest her?” Langlois asked the deputy.
Four protesters sat down in front of the gate to block the cruiser containing Dr. Keys and his mother from leaving. They were forced out of the way by deputies, and two were handcuffed and arrested. One of them, Paul Larudee, stayed limp and three officers dragged him screaming across the street amid a crowd of protesters, eventually wrangling him into a patrol car.
Shamika Newman, a member of the congregation, watched the arrests with angry tears. “They put an 80-year-old woman of God in handcuffs,” she said. “This is not right. They help people, they deserve to be rewarded. This is the devil’s work.”
The five were taken into custody for resisting arrest, according to sheriff’s office spokesman Jimmy Lee. They were taken to the county jail in Martinez.
“It’s an unfortunate situation and we don’t ever want things to get to that point,” he said. “There was a notice of eviction and it was served to the church on march ninth so Wednesday they should have left and they stayed another day.”
In a letter supporting the church, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughline called Bible Way a “treasured resource” in the Iron Triangle community. Since its founding nine years ago, the church has built out its social programs. The church was recently licensed to open a childcare program so that teen mothers could go to school or work. Church members also serve meals, organize youth activities, and offer official and unofficial support groups in the community.
Gracie Ivy said that beyond the formal services the church offers, Dr. Keys and his wife are both vital members of the neighborhood. “Pastor Keys is like a father to so many teenage boys who are outta control,” she said. “And his wife is like a mother to the community. She got her degree in childcare so she could open up the nursery and preschool and give single moms a place for their kids to be safe when they go to work.”
Torrey Pines Bank, which took over the church’s mortgage after absorbing original lender Alta Alliance Bank, foreclosed on Bible Way after the church fell behind on its $6,800 monthly payments. Pastor Keys has called the loan “predatory,” and said that his and his wife’s signatures were forged on income statements, resulting in a monthly payment too high for the church to afford. A lawyer representing the church has petitioned to halt the eviction until an investigation can be made into the pastor’s allegations.
In a press release, Torrey Pines Bank said their staff worked with Pastor Keys for over a year, extending their collections protocol to find a solution and allow the Keys to “substantiate their claims in appropriate legal proceedings over the past many months.” The statement said the bank “understands and regrets the disappointment of those who have been affected by this situation However, any suggestion that the Bank acted improperly or illegally in any way is simply untrue.” It also said the bank is not aware of any investigations into the issue.
“This church needs to be here and needs to keep ministering in this area,” said Claire Haas, a community organizer with the Home Defenders League, a division of the Alliance for Californians’ Empowerment, which was founded last year to advocate on behalf of homeowners facing foreclosures. The non-profit helped to organize the sit-in at the church and coached members of the congregation on civil disobedience.
Tanya Dennis, who was also arrested for blocking the gate, is an activist with the Home Defenders League and recently faced foreclosure on her own home in Oakland, but she was able to get the order rescinded with the help of similar actions from the organization, said Claire Haas. “She saw the same thing happening, and now it’s her turn to help others,” Haas said.
Claire Haas said the five people who were arrested were released at 1:30 Friday morning from the county jail in Martinez. She says she does not know what charges have been brought against them. The pastor could not be reached for comment.