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Residents, staff react to sex abuse allegations

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: NANCY TOWNSLEY - Five more women have come forward in the sex abuse case against Forest Grove resident Herbert 'Howard' Sahnow, owner/operator of The Elms Residential Retirement Community, bringing the number of potential victims to 12 as of Feb. 24.A big bear hug greeted a worried-looking female resident in the main hallway at The Elms in Forest Grove Wednesday morning, two days after the retirement facility’s owner was arrested on multiple charges of sex abuse.

“It’s going to be OK, honey,” soothed Barbara Riggs, her arms around the woman. “We’re going to stick together.”

Riggs, a petite blond, has been administrator at The Elms for 16 years. She has known Herbert “Howard” Sahnow — who is formally accused of sexually abusing at least seven women at the apartments on the corner of Elm Street and Pacific Avenue — all that time.

Local police said Wednesday morning that five more women had come forward over the last 48 hours, potentially leading to additional charges that could bring the number of alleged victims to 12.

Most of the incidents allegedly occurred over the past few years, according to Forest Grove Police spokesman Capt. Mike Herb, with some dating back “nearly a decade.”

The Elms provides apartment living for about 60 residents, Riggs said.

Public records list Sahnow as president and principal of The Elms Enterprises, Inc., 2030 Elm St. in Forest Grove. Besides multiple real estate holdings in Forest Grove, he also owns property in Banks, Gaston, Beaverton and Willamina, Ore., and in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“We’re all sad,” Riggs said of Sahnow’s Feb. 22 arrest and subsequent booking in the Washington County Jail in Hillsboro. “But he’s innocent until proven guilty.”

Riggs hasn’t put any new protocols or precautions in place at The Elms since Sahnow’s arrest. “We’re just going around making sure everyone’s OK … and reassuring them we’re not leaving them alone.”

At his arraignment Tuesday, Sahnow pleaded not guilty to one count of first-degree sex abuse, three counts of second-degree sex abuse, 16 counts of third-degree sex abuse and seven counts of burglary.

Sahnow was not in custody Wednesday morning, according to the county jail website. Officials said his next court appearance will be a case management hearing on March 14.

He has retained Portland attorney Stephen Houze as his legal counsel. Houze, a prominent criminal defense lawyer, has represented such clients as Dave Dahl, founder of Dave's Killer Bread, and former Oregon Duck tight end Colt Lyerla.

Forest Grove Police arrested Sahnow, 72, whose last address is listed as Filbert Street in Forest Grove, at 9:45 a.m. Monday. He posted $58,000 bail and was released from jail, but upon returning to The Elms the same day — a violation of his release agreement — was re-arrested and re-incarcerated.

The charges stemmed from a five-month investigation into Sahnow’s alleged actions while serving as owner/operator at The Elms, authorities said. The warrant was the result of a Washington County grand jury indictment.

The ages of the alleged victims range from women in their 30s to women in their 80s. There are no male victims to date, Herb said.

Det. Charles McCutchen of the FGPD is lead investigator in the case. “The focus right now is to schedule interviews with the women who came forward and any additional that come in,” Herb said. “We still suspect there could be more.”

Records show Sahnow has had other run-ins with the law. He was arrested in Washington County for harassment and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors, in 2007. No prior sexual offenses, drug-related offenses or firearms offenses were listed in public records.

Forest Grove Police officers have dealt with Sahnow as a victim of criminal mischief “related to his properties,” according to Herb.

Gene Evans, public affairs director for the Oregon Department of Human Services, said The Elms is not a DHS-regulated facility. DHS licenses only nursing facilities, adult foster homes, residential care facilities, assisted living facilities and continuing care retirement communities — and The Elms is none of those.

It wasn’t immediately clear what state agency, if any, is responsible for its oversight.

Social media commenters have largely demonized Sahnow — there were 68 shares of the News-Times’ original story between Monday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon — with a few echoing Riggs’ contention that he should not be judged guilty outside court.

Forest Grove High School alumnus Kurt Wright, commenting on Facebook, said he couldn’t believe Sahnow had “done something like this.

“I used to race motocross with his son. I have been to his house multiple times [and] never would have thought anything like this from him, so sad [sic].”

Another man, Steven Jones of Hillsboro — who said he worked for Sahnow in area strawberry fields for three summers in the 1980s — was “very shocked” to learn of his former boss’s arrest.

“He’s a hard-working man [who] has a lot of property,” said Jones, who said he is disabled due to cystic fibrosis. The last time he saw Sahnow, he said, was two years ago.

“I was walking by The Elms and [saw] this old man walking his dog,” Jones recalled. “I said, ‘Is that you, Howard?’ And he said ‘Yes, who are you?’ I said ‘I’m Steve Jones … I used to work for you.’

“He seemed a little senile and didn’t remember me, so I told him ‘Well, you have a good night.’”