A local attorney says he will drop a lawsuit against three veterans who moved into a Gregg County home through an organization not listed as the home’s owner.
The dispute began in late August when the veterans were informed they would have to leave the house off George Richey Road after the property’s owner as listed in Gregg County records, EGR Partnership, learned the men were living there.
A Gregg County court this month granted an injunction against the men to keep them out of the house. A lawsuit claiming they damaged the house while they lived there was expected to go to trial in November.
However, Longview attorney Bo Rogers of EGR Partnership said this past week in an email that he would dismiss the lawsuit now that his company has regained possession of the home.
“Although damage has been done to the house, I recognize that any judgment obtained will be uncollectable,” he said.
Two of the veterans have since moved into other housing in Gladewater, with the help of veterans’ organizations, said one of the veterans, Bill Johnson, and Debra Christian, whose Tyler-based veterans housing organization, Christian Restoration Residential Care Program, provided a lease that Johnson showed the News-Journal. It’s unclear where the third veteran has gone.
Christian and members of her family own more than 100 acres in the area of the home, with Christian fighting in court for years, in part, over oil and gas royalties she said she hasn’t been paid for after unauthorized drilling that took place on the land. She also maintains that the 1-acre property with the house in question was illegally taken from her family by former Gregg County Sheriff Tom Welch during a tax sale in the 1970s.
However, a review of Gregg County property records appears to show that the land where the house the veterans lived in has not been under her family’s ownership since at least as far back as 1966. Christian claims the 1 acre of land where the house is located was illegally cut out of her family’s land before then.
While the veterans are no longer being sued, Johnson said the situation still is causing financial hardship for the men, who must now pay rent versus the agreement they had with Christian to work in exchange for living in the house.
Johnson said he and other veterans moved into the house after he said Christian showed him documents he said proved she is the owner of the George Richey property. He said Christian told them that if the home was vacant, they could move in.
“It was an empty house on my land,” Christian said.
EGR Partnership became the latest owner of the property in 2011 in a sale of unpaid taxes by the previous owner, Bennie Dry, who is deceased, and Dry’s heirs. EGR built the house in 2013.
“When this house was being constructed, Ms. Christian alleged that the land was hers,” Rogers said in an email. “She was told that it had been purchased at a tax sale. That was the last we heard from her until the current issue arose.”
Rogers also points to a section in state law that provides one year from the date of a tax sale for someone to dispute the sale, among other limitations.
“Therefore, Ms. Christian, or anyone else claiming an ownership interest in the property, is now legally precluded from challenging ownership to this property,” Rogers said.