Jeff Marotz’s pet Chihuahua Tyson may only be about the size of a football, but he’s a pretty good watchdog when it comes to guarding the 34-foot RV the two of them call home. So when Tyson started growling and barking in the early morning hours of April 14, Marotz figured something was up.
Before he could get out of bed, someone had ripped open the RV door and pounced on Marotz, unleashing a fury of fists to his face and midsection. Marotz, 59, who is wiry at about 5 feet, 9 inches tall and 160 pounds, tried to fend his attacker off as the two tumbled out of the RV, which was parked just outside Gaddis Park in Roseburg.
One of the punches to Marotz’s face opened a gash over his right eye, and he felt the blood pour down his face. Marotz finally wrestled loose from his attacker, who walked off. But only for a minute. Before Marotz knew it he was back, throwing more punches, some landing so hard Marotz would later say he thought his assailant must have had a rock or brass knuckles.
Then, finally, it was over. The assailant walked off and Marotz scrambled back into his RV and drove away, anxious to put distance between him and this unknown attacker, anxious to “lick his wounds,” as he would say later.
Anxious to try and figure out what the hell just happened.
Marotz is still searching for answers, and what he’s learned so far has only served to cause more discomfort. Marotz wonders why the investigation into the assault was so cursory. He also wonders why his attacker had nearly all the charges dropped and got off with spending a couple of nights in jail.
Looking at the broader picture, Marotz questions whether his experience is connected to a brewing cauldron taking place at Gaddis Park, where scores of homeless had taken up housing during the winter only to be displaced now that spring is here, and along with it youth baseball at the park.
For better or worse, Marotz said, he is taking a stand.
“If anything is going to change, it’s got to start somewhere,” he said. “If I have to be that guy, then that’s what I’ll do. I don’t want to see anyone else go through what I went through.”
‘DROPPED THE BALL’Marotz was taken by ambulance to the hospital where he got five stitches for the cut over his eye and treatment for various bruises on his hands and body, especially his ribs. He said he moved the 1988 Pace Arrow RV to an area near Stewart Park and was laid up for five days as his injuries healed.
But what hurt almost as much as the injuries, Marotz said, is what he considers the light punishment meted out to his assailant, Justin Todd Johnson, who police found in some bushes near the attack. Johnson, 33, was initially charged with misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct, but those charges were dropped and he pleaded guilty to a charge of harassment. Johnson, a Roseburg resident according to police records, was sentenced to time served, which amounted to two nights in jail.
Marotz said he was stunned when he went to the police station to follow up on the case and learned what had happened with Johnson.
“That’s when I found out he’d been arrested, arraigned, pleaded and released in 48 hours. I found that hard to believe,” Marotz said.
“This was a home invasion and he broke blood. He should’ve been charged with a felony,” Marotz said. “I just don’t understand how you can break into somebody’s home, assault them, and get charged with a misdemeanor. Somebody dropped the ball on this.”
Marotz said he was also disappointed in the police investigation. He said an officer spent just a few minutes talking to him immediately after the attack and he never heard from anyone from the police department again for a follow-up interview, or to see how he was doing.
Roseburg Police spokesperson Daniel Allen said he watched the bodycam footage of Cpl. George Sheppard’s interactions with Marotz and it shows the officer spoke to him for nearly 12 minutes. Sheppard was “beyond professional, empathetic and accommodating to Mr. Marotz, and even gave him one of his spare lighters before the paramedics took him to Mercy,” Allen said.
He also said that Marotz did not have a phone or a consistent address, and said he was from California.
“These are some of the challenges we face when trying to follow up with victims,” Allen said. “Overall, Mr. Marotz appeared to have been satisfied with his contact with Cpl. Sheppard and based on the interview, Cpl. Sheppard had probable cause to determine the crimes of assault in the fourth degree and disorderly conduct in the second degree had been committed.”
‘NOTHING BUT MYSERY’Marotz acknowledges he spends a lot of time at Gaddis Park. He parks his RV in the parking lot there most days, he said, but is careful not to leave it there overnight, which is not allowed. Marotz also said that because he’s a regular presence at the park, he got caught up in the growing tensions there. Danny Quinn agrees.
Quinn, who owns a nursery in Glide, has taken it upon himself to clean up Gaddis Park, help the homeless people living in and around the park when he can, and try and create some kind of peace between those homeless people, law enforcement and the youth baseball leagues that often fill the popular park.
Talk about a challenge.
“These people are just so beaten up, they don’t know what to do. Add heroin into the mix and you’ve got a lot of scared, confused people,” Quinn said. “It’s nothing but misery.”
Quinn enlists the help of homeless people living around the park to help with the cleanups. If they get invested it makes things so much easier, he said. His hardest working, most reliable volunteer is Marotz, who Quinn said is there most days helping pick up trash, planting flowers and shrubs, and just trying to make the place look nice.
He also acts as a liaison between Quinn and the homeless community there.
“He goes camp to camp and puts flares out, lets them know I’m is coming,” Quinn said. “He’s saved me a lot of worry when I’m going into the camps. They all know I’m coming and what’s going on.”
Things had been relatively peaceful at the park through the winter; it was little used and Roseburg police were following a policy in response to the coronavirus that left homeless encampments in place, if possible.
The number of homeless who took up shelter in and around Gaddis Park swelled, with tents even sprouting up in a couple of the outfields. But as spring arrived, the fields at the park were needed for youth leagues.
Parents were enraged when they saw what had happened to their beloved park, and understandably so, Quinn said. During cleanups of the ball fields, used needles were found, and there were what appeared to be drug deals in the parking lot, he said.
A few of the parents took out their anger on the homeless living in the area, Quinn said. They would pound on their vehicles in the parking lot and tell them to leave. There were threats of violence.
“There were a lot of baseball vigilantes talking to the homeless, berating them, telling them to leave,” he said. “They were really belligerent. There was a lot of disrespect toward the population down there.”
At the same time, the police began rousting the homeless in and near the park, he said. They would put up signs letting them know they were in violation of the city’s no camping ordinance and had 48 hours to leave. Once they did leave, city park staff would come through and throw away whatever was left behind — often piles of trash, Quinn said.
Marotz said he saw Roseburg Police Chief Gary Klopfenstein at the park himself every day for a week hammering signs into the ground, including one time when he asked to borrow a hammer from a friend of Marotz.
Allen said the activity at Gaddis Park is no different than what has taken place in previous years.
“This is something we do every year around baseball season to ensure cleanliness and parking availability for the athletes and spectators,” Allen said, adding that Klopfenstein went down there during the league’s initial cleanup day on April 10, “to help ensure the facilities were ready for use.”
Allen also said the situation at Gaddis Park is not unlike what is happening throughout Oregon.
“Our challenges are much the same as the rest of the state when dealing with the unhoused,” he said. “Initial contacts are usually educational where we advise of offensive littering, city ordinances and park rules. Should enforcement be needed, our officers will issue citations/arrests based on the circumstances, violations and/or crimes committed.”
And as far as where the homeless people should go once they leave the park? That question “may be best asked to those individuals,” Allen said.
Quinn acknowledged that what is happening at Gaddis Park is a difficult situation for all involved. But, perhaps hopefully, things are beginning to look up a bit. Leadership of the youth baseball leagues have reached out to him and even helped him get another dumpster to help in his cleanup efforts.
There is still a back-and-forth between police and the homeless community, Quinn said. Just last week police cleared out a homeless encampment under the bridge next to Gaddis Park. The people living there had seemingly scattered to the wind, and all that was left behind were piles of trash, he said.
That illustrates the main issue in dealing with the homeless population, Quinn said — a full-throttled effort to root them out, with little thought given to where to house them.
“Where are they supposed to go? There’s no plan,” Quinn said. “Jeff is an example of that. He’s not a bad guy, he just has nowhere to go.”
WHAT NOW?Marotz didn’t pay a dime for the RV he calls home, but it wasn’t a gift either. It had been sitting idle for years when Marotz spotted it parked outside of Sutherlin last Fall. Fix it and it’s yours, he was told. About 15 minutes later Marotz was driving off in it.
Give Marotz enough time, the right parts, and even the most basic tools, and he figures he can fix just about anything. He’s that good with his hands.
He’s not so good at tending to relationships, or always making the right decisions, he acknowledges. Marotz doesn’t talk much about his past, and seems uncomfortable when asked questions about it. Here is what he did say:
He had several good jobs earlier, including a stint working for Marriott as a food and beverage manager. Then he “did something stupid, got caught and went to prison.” He served 10 years in the infamous San Quentin State Prison, north of San Francisco.
Marotz has a 13-year-old daughter and a son who is 2 ½. He is married but the relationship is rocky; he and his wife split up last Halloween.
He owned a house in Sutherlin and he was taking care of his father, who had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Marotz didn’t have a steady income and lost the house. His wife went to the Samaritan Inn and Marotz ended up at the Roseburg Rescue Mission. He eventually got hired by the mission and worked there for two years, before leaving to be with his wife and son.
That didn’t work out and he ended up in the RV at Gaddis Park around last Thanksgiving.
Living in the RV isn’t easy, he said. Last year he was robbed of his stimulus money, and this year he hasn’t been able to collect it yet. The RV is his home, but it can also be hard to find a spot to park it. Places that used to let you park your RV, like Walmart, are clamping down, he said.
“They’re making it very hard for people,” Marotz said. “I get it. But I don’t sell drugs, I don’t deal with prostitution, I don’t make a mess, I take care of my dog. “It’s discouraging in a lot of ways.”
Life was already difficult before the April attack, he said. Police routinely come by in the morning and pounded on his RV, telling him to leave, he said.
Quinn said he has seen the abuse first hand — including parents yelling at Marotz to leave.
“He’s been really harassed quite a bit. They’ve been chasing him around,” Quinn said. “He just doesn’t know where to go, like the rest of the homeless.”
The recent attack has put him even more on edge, Marotz said. Lately, he’s had trouble sleeping. His refuge is Gaddis Park, a place where he feels like he can do some good by planting some flowers and cleaning it up, including the trash left by parents watching their children play ball.
“I’m not trying to bother anyone,” Marotz said. “I don’t want to be here, but I’m trying to make the best of it.”