Nothing said in what follows is intended as legal advice. It is simply an essay from my perspective on the repeated violation of my individual and civil rights by the Barnesville, MN, city council and the city's employees.
In a few instances, I have referred to case law, not because I am a lawyer or have any credentials to be one, but because I am substantiating my opinions with quotations from other sources. This is a time-honored way to construct arguments in the academic world, and I have used the citations which follow in this essay strictly in the academic sense.
I have been asked why I have so persisently contacted one state agency after another in my search for help in dealing with the violations of my rights by the city of Barnesville and it's employees. The implication is that I am somehow fixated on this topic and won't let it go when I should have let it die a quiet death long ago. There's a bit more to it than that.
If you look at the timeline of events, you will notice that I have approached every lead I received in trying to find some organization within the state of Minnesota which would help me address the problems I was running up against with the city of Barnesville. I deliberately approached every avenue open to me to demonstrate that there is no remedy for Minnesota's lack of oversight of municipalities. There is only the oft-repeated Minnesota state refrain "This is a democracy -- solve your own local problems by voting the offending officials out," or the ultimate default position, "you can always sue."
While the spite-fence suit I initiated was long, emotionally painful, and financially draining for me, it does very clearly illustrate that suing -- the state of Minnesota's official position as the only recourse open to me --does not solve the problem. If anything, in my case, the legal system has actually perpetuated the violation of my individual rights. This is not meant as a judgement, but a statement of fact. The fence was allowed to remain without the neighbor who put it up having to demonstrate that the fence was indeed on his property even though there was evidence introduced in the court proceedings that one of the surveyor's pins was not put there by the surveyor.
Stepping back from the suit itself and taking a more distant perspective, the solution to sue -- the only one offered by the state -- allows the state to bypass the fundamental issues here, protecting my individual and civil rights as outlined by the federal government in the Constitution. Indeed, former Senator Rod Grams's legislative assistant affirmed this, as noted in the timeline
. The state, by refusing to provide oversight of any of the activities of municipalities it charters, has in a sense put the legal system in a very difficult position in trying to provide something the state should be providing itself. Grossack notes:
When Congress enacted Title 42 U.S. Code §1983 and other federal civil rights laws for the redress of violations of these rights, it did not extend liability to federal officials and employees. Instead, these laws were held to apply to "state action," and the actions of county and municipal government (except when federal officials conspired with others. See Fonda v. Gray, 1983(CA 9) CAL 707 F.2d. 435.)
I believe I have clearly demonstrated that residents of Minnesota suffer the brunt of the state's unwillingness to protect the individual rights of its residents if they happen to live in a municipality.
A look at case law shows that suing the police for anything rarely works. I have been told that judges consider police, for example, city employees and as such, believe the cities should be responsible for taking care of the problems. What isn't clear to me is why the state of Minnesota or the judicial system thinks the victims of crimes should be responsible for doing something about the violations of their rights when the cities themselves refuse to do so.
The reality is, most cities like Barnesville are unwilling or unable to oversee the rights violations of their employees or police because they do not want to deal with these problems. And why should they? No one is forcing them to.
For the state of Minnesota to tell me my only recourse is to sue, knowing that the police themselves are unlikely to be held accountable for their actions by a judge, is little different than telling me that it's my responsibility as a lone citizen to try to convince a dictatorship to cease terrorizing people.
While municipalities cannot be held accountable for a single violation of civil rights, Grossack notes that with repeated incidents involving several employees, the situation is viewed differently:
Federal employees may be personally liable for constitutional deprivation by direct participation, failure to remedy wrongs after learning about it, creation of a policy or custom under which constitutional practices occur or gross negligence in managing subordinates who cause violations. (Gallegos v. Haggerty, Northern District of New York, 689 F. Supp. 93).
Indeed, withint the past few years the state of Minnesota has recently passed a statute that does not allow a municipality to be sued for more than $300,000 per incident. This further shows the state of Minnesota's prejudice against holding municipalities responsible for their actions.
It should be noted, I am not the only person in Barnesville who has had their individual rights violated and who has thoroughtly documented the numerous incidents, as well as the Barnesville City Council's nonresponse to the complaints put before them.
Adam S. Lurie in Chapter 5 of the United States Civil Rights Commission's publication Revisiting *Who Is Guarding the Guardian?:* A Report on Police Practices and Civilt Rights in America, discusses the remedies and legal developments around this issue. Lurie further develops the discussion in the Cardozo Law Review article "Ganging Up on Police Brutality: Municipal Liability for the Unconstitutional Actions of Multiple Police Officers Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983." where he looks at court actions in cases involving police brutality and observes an increasing tendency for courts to hold municipalities accountable for the actions of their police force. (Please note this second link is to the article in .pdf format and will automatically begin downloading when you click on the link.)
It should be noted that the United States Civil Rights Commission's web site and list of publications is extremely helpful in providing information of value to those looking into civil rights issues.
An obvious question which arises in my situation is why not move. My house was already for sale, so I had made my decision to move. It should be noted I know of people who have moved outside the city limits of Barnesville for this very reason.
More importantly, I am one of those persons who is deeply committed to truth and justice. This has cost me tremendous emotional distress, not to mention financial loss. It takes enormous amounts of time and energy to thoroughly document the kinds of things that go on in these situations. I have amassed the kinds of evidence that reflect the insidiousness and genuine lawlessness that can pervade a municipality when the city's governing body knows it will be held accountable to no one.
I have thoroughly documented the real results of the state of Minnesota's officially sanctioning passive resistance --the do-nothing stance --on the part of municipalities. My intent has always been to demonstrate that these dangers and harms are real, they are very costly to individuals, and that the municipalities should be held accountable for the damage they do -- by the state entity that charters them.
In summarizing his discussion of suing over civil rights, David Grossack quotes Justice Louis Brandeis:
Decency, security and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds a contempt for the law, it invites every man to come a law unto himself. It invites anarchy. (United States v. Olmstead, 277 U.S. 438 (1928).
When you speak up to lawless regimes, you are going to suffer severe consequences. And I have. I am seeking reparations for the city's knowingly allowing continuous and repeated unlawful violation of my individual and civil rights and their disinterest in addressing these violations even when I have brought them to the council's attention.
I have as yet been unable to locate a lawyer who is willing to represent me in my claims against the city of Barnesville, so Minnesota's default position of suing for the violation of my individual and civil rights is a bit vaporous.
I would like to leave Barnesville a better place than it was when I came. By holding the Barnesville City Council and it's employees responsible for their behavior, I would be benefiting every resident of not only Barnesville, but also the state of Minnesota. Indeed, possibly even in The Heartland.
I simply believe it's time to address the issue of banana republics in Minnesota.
Reference *Grossack, David C. (1994). "Suing Your Federal Government for Civil Rights Violations," in Constitutional Business.
Banana Republics in The Heartland
Timeline of Events in Spite Fence Issue
List of Violations
Additional Rights Violation Incidents
The Devil's Advocate: FAQ
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