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Judge Sentences 'Pack Rat' to Jail After He Fails to Clean Up Home


MISSION HILLS — A professional clown and a self-described "pack rat" was sent to jail for eight months Wednesday after he failed to follow a court order requiring him to clean up unsightly trash and debris in his Mission Hills home and yard.

Terry Knutson, who uses the stage name Clownzo the Clown, was taken into custody by county marshals after Municipal Judge Alice Altoon determined that he had failed to remedy the unsightly conditions at his Vintage Street home that led to convictions last year on six misdemeanor counts.

"The poor neighbors. . . . I feel sorry for his neighbors," said Deputy City Atty. Donald Cocek.

Knutson, 41, was convicted by a jury in October of "maintaining a rodent harborage," permitting trash and debris to accumulate on his lot, permitting fire-hazardous refuge to collect both inside and outside his house, having faulty electrical wiring and carrying out construction without a permit at his home next to the San Diego Freeway.

In an interview after his conviction, Knutson made no apologies for his lifestyle as he showed a reporter his cluttered house--a warren of passageways formed by stacks of newspapers. The bathtub stored partial rolls of toilet paper and shoe boxes.

For 15 years, neighbors complained to authorities about garbage collecting on the property. This led to numerous investigations by city fire, building and safety inspectors.

During one such investigation, Knutson used a nail-studded board to assault a city fire inspector who was attempting to remove garbage from the property.

After last fall's trial, Altoon set deadlines for Knutson to clean up his house inside and out.

While the court order gave Knutson two months to take care of the various violations of city health and safety codes, authorities gave him nearly six months because of the winter's heavy rains.

"He's been given an adequate period of time to clean things if he was serious about it," Cocek said, although he conceded Knutson had removed some of the debris.

Knutson will probably be released from jail this summer, Cocek said. Altoon scheduled another hearing for Sept. 17 to determine if he has abided by her orders.

Although Knutson was sent to jail, the basic problem remains. Because he was convicted in a criminal court, the city cannot abate the eyesore without further proceedings, Cocek said.

"There isn't anything we can do criminally at this point," he said.

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