I guess it always pays to be careful. Real careful. Obsessively careful. Over-the-top careful.
At least, that’s what civil authorities in the tiny town of Stettin, Wisconsin, in Marathon County believe. To enforce a civil judgment, they sent 24 deputies and the county’s pride and joy — an armored vehicle — to collect $80,000 from a 75-year-old man.
This account of the “police action” will have your jaw dropping.
From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
When officials in the tiny Town of Stettin in Marathon County went to collect a civil judgment from 75-year-old Roger Hoeppner this month, they sent 24 armed officers.
And an armored military vehicle.
Among other issues, the recent unrest in Ferguson, Mo., focused attention on the growing militarization of local law enforcement, particularly the use by even very small police departments of surplus armored military vehicles.
Marathon County sheriff’s officials aren’t apologizing for their tactics. Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Bean said officials expected to have to seize and remove tractors and wooden pallets to pay the judgment — hence the cadre of deputies. He also said what while Hoeppner was never considered dangerous, he was known to be argumentative.
Hoeppner said when he noticed deputies outside his house, he called his attorney, Ryan Lister of Wausau. Lister said he quickly left for Hoeppner’s house but was stopped by a roadblock that was kept up until after his client had been taken away in handcuffs. “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, Lister said.
Bean said deputies had to handcuff Hoeppner because he was not following all their instructions, but did eventually agree to pay the $80,000 judgment after a visit to a bank — accompanied by deputies.
Bean also said the armored truck was summoned only after Hoeppner initially refused to come out of his house. Once the truck appeared, so did Hoeppner.
“I’ve been involved in about five standoff situations where, as soon as the MARV showed up, the person gives up,” saving time, money and increasing safety, Bean said.
Madison’s police recently made a similar endorsement after officers used one to carry out the safe arrest of a man who had fired at police from a window of his home.
MARV stands for Marathon County Response Vehicle, which his department obtained in 2011. It’s the only one in the county and gets used 10 to 20 times a year, Bean said.
“People may not always understand why, but an armored vehicle is almost a necessity now,” Bean said.
Hoeppner’s wife was so upset about the raid that she had to be taken to the hospital.
There are two sides to every story, but even if you accept the version offered by Stettin authorities, you have to wonder about their motives in siccing an armored car on the old guy.
The judgment is the result of a six-year court battle in which the town won a suit against Mr. Hoeppner for zoning violations and violations of other nuisance laws. Three years ago, the court ordered Hoeppnner to pay and when he didn’t, the town got a final judgment in 2013 that slapped him with a $500 a day fine and payment of the town’s legal fees. The judge also allowed authorities to collect the judgment without informing Hoeppner or his attorney.
Hoeppner seems like a cantankerous old coot, but he wasn’t a threat. What is perhaps most chilling is that authorities thought nothing of calling for an armored car to intimidate him. The MARV is the lazy man’s way of dealing with a situation like this, so rather than doing actual police work and negotiate, or wait him out, they took the shortcut of rolling a two-ton vehicle more appropriate for the battlefield than a pastoral setting into Mr. Hoeppner’s driveway.
There also appears to be an element of payback from the civic fathers for Hoeppner’s obstinacy. And there’s also the fact that Mr. Hoepnner took seriously the town council’s “comment period” where he apparently inveighed constantly against authorities.
In a federal civil rights suit, Hoeppner contends that Wasmundt infringed on his free speech rights by calling deputies to town board meetings where Hoeppner wished to address the board during public comment periods, and for later eliminating public comment entirely from meeting agendas.
Once, Hoeppner said, he was arrested by the deputies at Wasmundt’s direction, only to later be released without charge.
You can imagine the grim satisfaction enjoyed by the town’s politicians when this rabble-rousing, free-speaking citizen was put in his place by this show of overwhelming force at his house.
There’s no such thing as debtor’s prison anymore in America, so you have to wonder what charges will be filed against Mr. Hoeppner. Did it really take 24 armed deputies and the presence of an armored car to collect a civil judgment?
That’s a question that Americans are going to have to ask their own police departments.