SCREENSHOT/Roger Hoeppner runs a pallet repair business.
Police officers in Stettin, Wisconsin, recently sent a militarized 24-man SWAT team and an armored vehicle to collect fines from a 75-year-old man whose property was deemed untidy by local officials.
Following what his lawyer, Ryan Lister, described as a “long-running, heavily litigated dispute” over how he used his 20-acre property, Roger Hoeppner was ordered to clean up his land or face a $500-a-day fine.
Here’s a little background on the case, courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Hoeppner owns about 20 acres along Packer Drive, which runs nearly parallel with Highway 29 west of Wausau, where he restores antique tractors and runs a pallet repair business. The latter at times featured giant piles of the wooden pallets visible from Packer Drive.
In 2008, the town sued Hoeppner over claimed violations of ordinances about zoning, signs, rubbish and vehicles. About a year later, the two sides settled; Hoeppner was supposed to clean up his property, and the town was supposed to open discussions about its zoning.
The town felt Hoeppner had not complied, and it brought a motion for contempt and enforcement. In September 2010, a judge ordered Hoeppner to remove certain items from his land.
The following May, the judge found Hoeppner had still not complied and authorized the town to seize assets. In the summer of 2011, the town hauled away several tractors, pallets, equipment and other items and auctioned them off for “pennies on the dollar,” according to Lister.
The fine went into effect after the elderly man lost a final appeal in March. By October, without notifying Hoeppner or his attorney, the county’s jack-boot brigade was sent to his home to collect $86,000 they say he owed.
“Rather than provide Mr. Hoeppner or his counsel notice… and attempt to collect without spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on the military-style maneuvers, the town unilaterally decided to enforce its civil judgment [with a show of force],” the man’s lawyer told the local newspaper.
That’s right, 24 armed men and a military vehicle stormed the man’s property while his lawyer, after being notified that the police had arrived and heading to the scene, was detained at a nearby roadblock — all in order to collect a civil judgment.
The elderly Hoeppner must be known locally as one bad S.O.B., huh? Well, not exactly, but local Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Bean explained that he had been known to be argumentative. Also, the official said, officers didn’t bring out the military vehicle until Hoeppner refused to come out of his house.
“People may not always understand why, but an armored vehicle is almost a necessity now,” Bean said.
(No doubt, if towns are going to be in the business of telling hardworking Americans how they are allowed to use their personal property, confiscating their belongs and robbing them of their retirement savings, military vehicles could come in handy.)
The argumentative elderly man eventually gave in to the police demands.
“The $86,000 figure is enough to shock most men,” he said. “And they wanted it now, today.”
Hoeppner eventually settled with the town for $80,000 after officials graciously allowed him to keep $6,000 to cover the cost of removing remaining items from his property.