Seven months pregnant and preparing for her fiancé’s latest U.S. Navy deployment, Kaishla Betancourt said she made time Tuesday to visit a man who lives next to a Wilkes-Barre apartment building they own to discuss his concerns about yard maintenance.
She said she was calmly communicating her commitment to keep the apartment grounds tidy when the woman who lives two properties away in the 500 block of South River Street announced she was getting her gun.
Betancourt, who is Latino and has several minority tenants, said she initially thought the woman was kidding and was shocked when she emerged with a revolver that “looked like something out of a Clint Eastwood movie.”
According to Betancourt, the woman, who is white, waved the gun and said, “I’m going to shoot you. You people aren’t supposed to be here.”
Betancourt called city police, and no shots were fired. The incident has prompted Betancourt to publicly call for an end to racial profiling, saying many minority property owners and renters are law-abiding citizens who care about the community.
“It’s really hurtful to know that racism still exists to this day,” Betancourt said.
During an interview in the apartment’s backyard Wednesday, the woman who allegedly threatened her with a gun entered the neighboring property and yelled to Betancourt that she has video recordings as evidence “from the start.” She didn’t specify what that meant.
The woman also shouted that a reporter should talk to her. However, the woman disappeared and didn’t answer her door a short time later. A man who answered her phone twice Wednesday afternoon said she was out and declined to accept a message seeking comment, saying he did not think she would respond.
Betancourt contacted police again Wednesday after the woman shouted at her, saying police prohibited the woman from communicating with her after the alleged gun incident. Police unsuccessfully attempted to make contact with the woman Wednesday and said the incident will be added to the initial police report.
City police publicly issued a report Wednesday indicating terroristic threat charges will be filed against 56-year-old Marilyn Jones of Wilkes-Barre. The police report, posted on the city’s Facebook site, says: “Victim alleges that Jones threatened her with a handgun after the victim was speaking with another neighbor about property upkeep.”
Betancourt said blanket assumptions hurt because she and her minority tenants are hardworking citizens.
She requires prospective tenants to undergo background and income/employment checks and personally contacts at least six references. She also queries applicants’ prior landlords and observes their demeanor and hygiene.
Race is irrelevant, she said.
“I don’t care what you are — Hispanic, black, white, polka dot,” said Betancourt, 22.
She also provides a record of all tenants to the city and said the property is up to date on city rental inspections.
Betancourt acknowledged the grass got too high because a tenant who handles maintenance had a sick family member but said she promptly mowed the lawn when it was brought to her attention. She also contacted the landlord of a building behind hers because his tenant pushed a mattress over the fence into her yard, making it appear her property contained debris.
There’s no incentive to pick questionable tenants or let the property deteriorate because the couple want to protect their investment and improve the image of minority residents living here, she said.
Betancourt said she vowed to better her life when she became pregnant at 19. She had a “very, very hard” childhood because her parents were unstable and moved often all over the country, she said.
“I didn’t want to end up like the stereotype of a Hispanic woman with multiple kids on public assistance,” she said. “I worked hard.”
A little over three years ago, she and partner Henry Tejeda were moving out of their Brooklyn apartment and decided to start fresh with their child. They accessed Craigslist and randomly pointed to their next rental destination — Wilkes-Barre.
Once they became attached to the city and decided to stay, the couple worked multiple jobs to start purchasing investment properties while Tejeda also attended school, she said.
They bought the South River Street apartment building for $79,780 last September and another apartment building on Blackman Street for $35,000 in June, county records show.
“We sacrificed a lot. Nothing was handed to us,” she said.
Tejeda, 28, has served eight years with the military to date and will miss the birth of his child because he’s leaving for his next one-year deployment Friday, she said.
Betancourt said she has earned the respect of many local residents and won’t be “bullied and harassed” by bigots.
“When this incident happened, it felt like I was back in the hood and ghetto. I should not be afraid to come on my own property,” she said.