Elms owner Sahnow sentenced to probation and more

By Stephanie Haugen | Forest Grove News Times | October 13, 2016

Herbert "Howard" Sahnow, owner of The Elms Retirement Community in Forest Grove, was ordered to serve two days in jail, spend five years on probation, register as a sex offender and pay $1,200 in fines for multiple charges of sexual abuse stemming from incidents at The Elms.

Sahnow appeared before Judge Theodore Sims Thursday, Oct. 13, in a Washington County courtroom, represented by criminal defense attorney Stephen Houze.

Sims instructed Sahnow to turn himself in by Oct. 24 to serve his jail time. He will also receive mental health and sex offender evaluations and treatment where recommended. If he violates his probation, Sahnow will be sentenced to 12 years in jail.

Sahnow pleaded guilty to the charges, which involved groping employees and residents of The Elms. The victims - all residents and employes of the Elms - ranged from 30 to 80 years old.

Wearing a suit and using a cane, Sahnow said he understood that he was giving up his right to a trial by pleading guilty. In addition, he waived his right to address the court.

Deputy District Attorney Megan Johnson addressed the court, explaining the circumstances of each of the 12 female victims, who said Sahnow touched them inappropriately without their consent in separate incidents from 2013 to 2016.

Johnson said Sahnow, who was 72 at the time of his arrest in February, groped and tapped multiple employees on the breasts and buttocks without their consent. These incidents occurred throughout the facility, including the kitchen, hallways, in an elevator and in individual rooms, she said.

Johnson said most of the victims did not want to take the stand in a trial because these kind of trials can be "long, public and humiliating."

She said she hoped the plea deal would satisfy her obligation to honor the victims' wishes of avoiding a trial, as well as her obligation to advocate for the victims' continued safety and the safety of the public. It was difficult to craft a resolution that would please everyone, she said.

The probation requires that Sahnow not set foot on The Elms property, which he still owns.

Sahnow returned to The Elms the same day of his February arrest - a violation of his release agreement - and was quickly re-arrested and re-incarcerated.

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.

Unless he has written consent from his probation officer, Sahnow is not to have contact with any of the victims or with females who are 65 or older or who have developmental disabilities. Johnson said this was to make sure Sahnow is "not in contact with people who cannot protect themselves from him. The intent is that other vulnerable adults remain safe from him."

The $58,000 Sahnow paid in bail earlier this year will be distributed to the victims.

Mike Sahagian, an attorney who represents a few of the victims, read a letter addressed to Sahnow from one of the women who is an employee of The Elms. The letter stated that Sahnow continually asked her when she was going to invite him up to her apartment. The woman said Sahnow made her feel uncomfortable and insignificant with his unwanted taps on the buttocks. "No one should have such power," the letter concluded.

The letter writer also said she thought she did not get a raise in wages when other employees received raises because she was talking with detectives assigned to this case.

Sahagian also brought up that there have been rumors among his clients that employees who cooperated in the investigation will face retaliation from Sahnow, who could deny raises and evict them from The Elms.

Hillsboro attorney John Tyner, who represents one of the victims, also addressed the court and shared similar concerns.

Tyner described the experience of one of the victims, a "very timid" woman in her mid-70s who lived at The Elms with her husband who uses a wheelchair and oxygen.

Tyner said Sahnow came up behind the woman, cupped her breasts with his hands and thrust his crotch forward toward her buttocks. The woman was too ashamed to tell her husband and afraid the information would negatively impact his health. Tyner said his client was intimidated and frightened for months.

Tyner said his client as well as at least seven other victims have filed lawsuits against Sahnow for assault and battery. He said they'll likely amend the suit to include elder abuse. Tyner said that the tenants who filed lawsuits received 60-day eviction notices, which were later rescinded after attorneys representing the victims brought up the violation of tenant laws. Tyner described the action as blatantly "retaliatory."

Tyner's client is suing Sahnow for $300,000 for emotional pain and suffering, humiliation and anxiety, as well as attorney fees.

Sahnow victimized people who didn't have a lot of other living options, Tyner said. He "picked the weakest women."