NEW PORT RICHEY — For at least a few days, authorities said, the squatter enjoyed living at the nearly 1,400-square-foot, two-bath home on Illinois Avenue. Central air-conditioning. Carpet. Television. The owners are snowbirds who let family members use it for vacations. The last one to stay there left weeks ago.
Police say Anthony Venard Russaw, a 26-year-old transient with a history of arrests for aggravated assault with a weapon, battery and DUI, forced his way into the house through the back door. He ate the homeowners' food and, when finished, threw away the dishes instead of washing them, a report states.
On Monday, a neighbor noticed a television on in the house and called the New Port Richey Police Department. Officers went inside, thinking it might be a burglary in progress, and found signs someone was living there. They called the homeowners to verify that no one had permission to be inside. Then they set up a stakeout to wait for the squatter to come back, said Capt. Jeffrey Harrington.
A report says Russaw returned later that night and went inside, sat down and turned on the TV. When officers knocked on the door, Russaw "answered the door as if he resided there," the report states. Harrington said Russaw told officers he owned the house and lived there — then changed the story to say the house belonged to a relative, who allowed him to stay there.
Eventually, he said he broke inside looking for a "place to sleep," the report states.
Harrington said Russaw might be a serial squatter and that detectives are reviewing other similar burglary cases. He also said Russaw might have had a companion.
"It's still under investigation," Harrington said.
Russell Raymond, 62, owns the home and said police told him Russaw and a woman did no damage inside the house. They did their laundry, they showered and threw their wet towels in the hamper.
"I guess they figured on staying there for a while," he said.
The only thing that bothered Raymond was that the two smoked inside the house.
He's grateful to his neighbors and to the officers who responded so quickly.
"What more could you ask for?" he said.
Russaw was charged with burglary of an unoccupied dwelling. He was being held Wednesday at the Pasco County jail in lieu of $10,000 bail.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.