In preparation for the sale of my house, I had a survey of my property done in June of 1999 by a registered surveyor. Before the surveyor came, I told my neighbors I was having my lots surveyed and the surveyor may need to come into their yard to do this.
Once the survey was completed, the surveyor's pins indicated my property line ran along the north edge of my circular driveway around the house. The north edge of my north tire track was essentially the lot line.
I had had no conversations with the neighbors to the north (hereafter called the spite-fence neighbors) from the times I discussed the survey with them in June until I noticed the truck with fence posts backed up in their yard beside my driveway and their driving rebar into my tire tracks and running string between the spikes.
I observed all this from my third floor office where I was working. It was a short time after twelve noon. I called my neighbors five houses away and had her mother and husband who were visiting walk over and assess the situation with me so I would have witnesses.
Out my third floor window I saw my neighbor's parents get to about the middle of the road in front of the house to the north when I heard my front door bell ring. I answered the door and the spite-fence neighbor's wife was standing there, very nervously, and said "We're putting a fence in." She did not look me in the eye, but made the statement looking over her shoulder at her husband, and rushed to turn and go back down the front porch even as she spoke this sentence to me.
Shortly later, perhaps when she saw my neighbor's parents walking over, someone from the spite-fence neighbor group called the Barnesville city police. When the police officer arrived, I pointed out that these spite-fence neighbors had no proof that this was the property line, even though these were the stakes my surveyor had placed there. They had no surveyor's plat, nothing in writing. I had paid for the survey and they should pay for their own survey if they wanted to put a fence on the property line.
Putting a fence on the property line, which happened to be the edge of my tire track, meant I could not drive in my driveway, but would have to drive on my grass. At one point the distance between the north edge of this north tire track and my house is nine feet wide. My only vehicle is a half-ton pickup. There was plenty of room to put the fence inside the property line enough that I could continue to use my driveway unimpeded.
My belief was you could not impede a driveway that was in constant use without getting legal permission to do so. I suggested they get an attorney and address the issues involved. Their position was that they had a right to stake their property line. These spite-fence neighbors and their two helpers had driven two-foot lengths of rebar every two to three yards along the alleged property line-and several inches within my north tire track. They then ran a string between the rebar along about half the length of my driveway.
I requested the police officer to ask that the rebar that had been put in my tire track be removed. I considered this dangerous to people and a hazard in a driveway that was used constantly.
The spite-fence neighbors did not remove the rebar.
That night I removed the rebar and set in on the edge of their yard and I removed the two posts and the two pins the surveyor had placed on the property line. I realized this was something a person is not supposed to do, but I felt I had little recourse given the circumstances, and I could always have the surveyor come back and replace the pins.
NOTE: While the surveyor's pins and stakes are close to where they were originally, they are not precisely where they were. The spite fence was erected siting down a string wrapped around rebar, introducing a considerable margin for error. I do believe the fence posts are partially on my property even though the spite-fence neighbors claim they have set the fence posts six inches inside the property line.
From the time the spite-fence was in place, the spite fence neighbor continually roto-tilled around the fence posts. Overtly, he was creating a flower bed along the fence, but it was clear he was also roto-tilling up my former tire track which his fence posts were now in, to obliterate any traces of what he had done. I have pictures of where he tilled, as well as the fill dirt he brought in to further obliterate the original tire track.
I realized at the time I pulled the pins that this is not allowed, but without police protection, I saw no other way to protect myself or my property. I am single and live alone with no relatives nearby.
I had the surveyor come back in April of 2000 and try to replace the removed pins, but the spite-fence neighbor happened to be home at the time and came out and was literally in the surveyor's face the whole time he was here. My neighbor's wife and I observed what was going on.
The surveyor's revised plat said he had replaced the one pin and "recovered" the second. Of course, his pin was not there to recover, so if there's one there, it was not put there by the surveyor. He also showed the fence as being 6 inches from the property line. When my attorney met the surveyor to discuss the situation after the resurvey, the surveyor claimed he could not attest to where the original tire track had been. The surveyor did not replace the "recovered" pin.
In the morning, the spite-fence neighbor's wife and daughter pounded iron fence posts into the place they thought the surveyor's posts had been and also pounded the rebar back into my north tire track.
Later that day I stopped by the Barnesville Police Department and spoke with the Barnesville Police Chief and told him I considered the rebar a hazard. All I was asking was that they ask these people to keep the rebar out of my driveway while lawyers were brought into the situation to negotiate settlement. The Police Chief did not indicate that he would make this request for me.
Every time I removed the rebar and set it in the neighbor's yard, they put it back in my north tire track. To my knowledge, the Barnesville police never asked them to stop putting the rebar in my tire track.
I called the one Barnesville City Council member who showed any understanding of the kinds of problems I had always had with the city, even though he was not from my ward. I asked him to help me get the rebar out of my driveway. He called the Police Chief and asked why the driveway couldn't be marked in a less dangerous way, and the Police Chief claimed there was no rebar standing in my driveway.
As I was working in my third floor office in late morning, I noticed that the fence crew was again manipulating the rebar in my driveway again and again had a pickup truck backed up to put in fence posts. I again called my witnessing neighbors. This time the witnessing neighbor's husband came over with the lawn mower in the back of his car and pulled into my driveway.
I asked my spite-fence neighbor to move the rebar and string so my witnessing neighbor could get by. I was told loudly and threateningly by the spite-fence neighbor not to touch the rebar. The spite-fence neighbor's wife was taking videos of the entire encounter, and at one time had the video pushed into the face of my witnessing neighbor. My witnessing neighbor drove onto my grass to get around the first rebar post and parked in my driveway, fully in my tire tracks, yet still his car was against the string they had strung between the various rebar posts. My witnessing neighbor got out of the car, removed the lawn mower from the trunk, and started to mow the lawn.
The spite-fence neighbors called the police.
The officer who answered the call (a different one than had previously been there) talked to the spite-fence neighbors privately. He then came to my house and told me he was going to tow my witnessing neighbor's car if it was not moved. In fact, the police officer told me he would not leave my property until the car was moved.
The officer also informed me that he had given the spite-fence neighbors permission to put in three fence posts. The spite-fence neighbors insisted that the posts were not permanent. I asked that the officer have the spite-fence neighbors remove the rebar from my driveway, but he gave me no indication he would. NOTE:
Had I been allowed to leave my vehicle parked in my driveway, totally on my property, it is my belief the spite fence would not be there today. In other words, I was not allowed by the Barnesville police to lawfully and peacefully protect my own property until some sort of settlement could be negotiated
I asked the officer what happened if the city towed the car and it was shown to be on my property, in which case they had no legal right to move the car. He said the police and the city were not liable.
I left my house that afternoon and came home about 8:30 that evening. It was dark and when I pulled into my driveway as I always do, I did not see the rebar, and drove over it.
I went into the house and called 911 and specifically asked for the Clay County sheriff. I was told by dispatch at 911 that they could not send the sheriff. Because I lived in a municipality, the police would have to call the sheriff. I told them I had requested the sheriff because the police were not helping me, but finally agreed to have the Barnesville police come anyway.
I did not know where the Minnesota state police barracks was although I considered calling them. However, I had already been refused the county sheriff by 911 and had no reason to think anyone would send state police. I briefly considered simply driving to the state police, wherever they were, althought it meant a trip of at least 30 miles. I decided against this because I was unsure if my pickup had been damanged by the rebar and was afraid to drive any distance until damage to my pickup had been assessed.
So once again I called my witnessing neighbors and the wife came over to videotape the rebar in the driveway. As we were doing this, the Barneville Police Officer arrived (a third one, different than the two before). He pulled into the driveway by the rebar and left his lights shining on the area as we videotaped. We then moved into my kitchen to finish our discussion. My witnessing neighbor remained to verify my conversation with the officer, and without my knowledge or the police officer's, videotaped the entire conversation.
I told the police officer my understanding was that the rebar was to be gone. The officer said he had no knowledge of whether it was supposed to be gone or not but I could check with the officer who had been there in the morning. He would come on duty at 8 a.m the next day (Sunday).
I told this officer I wanted to talk to the sheriff. He said he couldn't call the sheriff but I could ask the Barnesville Police Chief to call the sheriff for me. I called the Barnesville Police Chief at home and he refused to call the sheriff. He gave no reason except that "he wasn't calling the sheriff at this time of night." It was between 9 and 10 p.m.
I told this officer I wanted it recorded in the police report that I had been denied access to the sheriff when I had requested to have the sheriff called. I also told this officer that I had repeatedly asked that the police request the spite-fence neighbors not put rebar in my driveway because I considered it a hazard. This officer said he did not consider the rebar a danger.
As we finished up our conversation about the situation and the officer was about to leave, he told my witnessing neighbor and I that if it were him, he would pull up the rebar and toss it into their yard, but of course, if anyone asked him about this, he would deny it.
The officer returned to his car preparing to leave when the spite-fence neighbors returned home. They walked over to the officer's car, parked in my driveway by the rebar and talked with the officer. The officer moved his car into their driveway for further discussion, which lasted probably for about ten or fifteen minutes. The officer then evidently received a call, because he left.
My witnessing neighbor and I observed all this from her front porch five houses away. We continued our discussion for a while and then noticed that this same officer returned and drove into the spite-fence neighbor's driveway, evidently to continue talking with them about the situation. The officer stayed in the car talking with the spite-fence neighbors until about 11:30 p.m.
The spite-fence neighbors and his helpers started putting up the the fence posts clearly in my tire track on Sunday morning.
About 10 a.m. I called the Police Officer #2, to check to see if he had told the spite-fence neighbors to remove the rebar. He said he did not tell them to remove it, but told them not to add any more to it. He volunteered that the spite-fence neighbors had wanted to add another rod of rebar to the line. He said he did not ask them to remove the rebar because I had room to drive around it (in my grass).
Officer #2 did verify, however, that the spite-fence neighbors had agreed to put up only three fence posts and he agreed they were not abiding by what they said they would do by putting up the rest of the fence. He said he would note that in the police report.
Officer #2 also reported that the building inspector had told the spite-fence neighbors that they could put the fence on the property line, although the building inspector said most people set fences back 22 inches, the width of a lawn mower. I later verified there are no zoning ordinances in Barnesville against putting a fence on a property line, although there is an ordinance against fences which block the way to city power lines. This fence clearly blocks the only path to the power lines behind the spite-fence neighbor's house.
About 11:30 a.m. I saw the city council member for my ward talking to the spite-fence neighbors. He also went over and talked to the neighbors on the north side of the spite-fence neighbors. I went out to talk to him, since I doubted he would not actually knock on my door to hear my side of what was going on.
I told him these were not the surveyor's posts and he became openly angry at me, telling me "You know good and well where the property line is because you had it surveyed. You're just being ornery." He allowed as how this post in front of him by the sidewalk may not be a surveyor's post, but "I KNOW that one is," speaking of the post at the other end of the driveway, 100 feet away. To my knowledge he had never been any closer to that post 100 feet away than he was as we talked.
This city council person pointed out that I could still use the driveway. I would just have to move my bushes. He admitted snow removal would be a problems but said I'd just have to get a snowblower.
About 2:00 p.m. I managed to reach the one city council member, not in my ward, who understood the kinds of problems often generated by the actions of the city employees and police. He apologized for how badly the whole situation had been handled. He understood that I had asked for the sheriff because I felt endangered. He said Police Chief shouldn't have denied me access to the sheriff. He wasn't sure they could put a fence on a line. He said there was no excuse for the spite-fence neighbors marking the line with rebar. And he understood that if the spite-fence neighbors wanted to put a fence up, it was their responsibility to establish the fence line with their own survey. About 5:30 p.m. my kitchen doorbell rang. It was Barnesville Police Officer #3, the one we had on videotape. He told me he had spent all day rereading the police reports and studying the issue and had come to the conclusion that he had to charge me with criminal destruction of property for running over the rebar.
I asked if I could call the city council person I had reached earlier in the day first, and he said no.
He wanted to know my birth date and I wouldn't give it to him. Nor would I take the ticket. He threw it on the counter and left.
About 7:30 p.m. the city council person I had called earlier for help called back to report that he had called the Barnesville city attorney and was still waiting to hear back from him. He reported that the Police Chief told him the rebar was no danger and was laying flat on the ground. I told this council person that is was by no means flat on the ground, but driven in the ground like stakes and a real hazard.
I went to the Barnesville Police Department to pick up copies of the police reports, expecting two for Officer #3's Saturday night calls, and another one for the delivery of the ticket to me on Sunday. I received one police report.
The Police Chief said the ticket was written out Saturday night, just not delivered until Sunday, and there was no need for a separate police report. The Saturday night police report says that charges were made then. I told the Barnesville Police Chief that that was not what Officer #3 had told me when he delivered the ticket at 5:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
I called the Minnesota Attorney General's Office. The person who took my call said that I needed to contact the County Attorney. I was instructed this is the person who has jurisdiction over the county. She also suggested I call the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (POST Board) and see if they could help me file a complaint against the police.
I called the Clay County Attorney. She said I could call the Sheriff any time. She would check out why I had been told I could not have the Sheriff come Saturday night.
I called the POST Board. The person I spoke to there said he has limited jurisdiction, but told me to report to him what I had been given as a form to file a complaint against the Barnesville Police.
The Clay County Sheriff called me because the Clay County Attorney had called him. He told me I can call the Sheriff's office any time. I told him I had called and specifically requested the Sheriff Saturday night and was told only the Barnesville police could request the Sheriff in Barnesville. He said he would check the voice tape of my call and get back with me.
When the Sheriff called back after reviewing the taped conversation with the dispatcher, he said the dispatcher had given me the "wrong answer."
He also told me he could not investigate police misconduct without being asked to do so by the County Attorney, and she had not asked him to.
On the advice of my attorney, I had written and mailed on this day a counseled letter to the spite-fence neighbor suggesting he not make the fence posts permanent until this issue could be negotiated between our attornies.
I received a letter in the mail from the Barnesville Police Department, signed by Officer Nicklay, that upon the recommendation of the city attorney, he was dropping the charges against me for destruction of property. The letter was metered for September 14th, dated September 15th, and I got it in my mailbox at the Barnesville post office where it was mailed on September 16th.
I decided to file a complaint against the police officers involved. When I asked the Police Chief for the forms to do this, he said I had to get them from the Barnesville City records manager.
The Barnesville City records manager noted that the city itself does not have a policy for filing a complaint against a city police officer, but this is the Police Department's responsibility. She had the Police Chief give her what he called their policy, siting MO 626.87, which she showed me in her 1992 Minnesota statute book. She had asked the Police Chief if he had a more up-to-date version and he told her to look for it on the Internet.
This "policy," it turned out, was actually the POST Board's "Conduct Unbecoming to a Police Officer," plus a form called "Barnesville Police Department Internal Complaint Form." I called my contact at the Minnesota POST Board and told him what papers the Police Chief had supplied when I asked for the papers to file complaints against the city police officers. My contact at the POST Board said these were not the forms the state mandated and he would check into it.
In the afternoon, the spite-fence neighbor began digging out the dirt around the fence posts which were now sitting in holes he had now placed all along the property line and in my north tire track. He did not remove the fence posts, but merely dug up around them, filling the space around them with a mix of dirt and Sakrete about four to six inches below the surface, and watered it down with a hose.
At 2:45 p.m. I went out and took pictures of the fence posts which had been dug around, and some of these pictures included the spite-fence neighbor putting Sakrete in the fence holes and hosing it down. He instructed his daughter to go get her mother, and she came out with her video and took pictures of me taking pictures. I did not say anything to them, but spent about five minutes taking pictures and went back into my house.
At 3:00 p.m. I noticed the same police officer out in front of the spite-fence neighbor's house as answered their first call (Officer #1). He was showing the police officer two or three sheets of paper stapled together. I went out and as I approached, the spite-fence neighbor started to lead the police officer across his yard and away from me. The officer asked as he walked away if I would like to talk to him and I said yes.
When the police officer came to my door, he said that I was not to take pictures of them working on the fence (from my yard). This was invading their privacy and harassing them. If I wanted to take pictures of the work they were doing, I would have to wait until they were finished. They had no objections to my taking pictures once they were finished and were no longer in the front yard.
I pointed out to the police officer that the wife of the spite-fence neighbor was out with the video camera any time I was out there when they were. I pointed out that she actually stuck the video camera in my neighbor's face the previous Saturday when he was parked in my driveway. In other words, they were all on my property videotaping my neighbor and me.
My attorney requested all the videos but none were turned over before the trial. On the day of pretrial, September 25, 2000, the spite-fence neighbor's attorney handed over one video. When we reviewed it after the pre-trial appearance, it had clearly been taken the day before, and was composed entirely of the spite-fence neighbor walking around in my driveway on my side of his fence taking pictures of his fence.
In addition to instructing me not to take pictures of the spite-fence neighbors, Officer #1 also said they had shown him an old microwave in my back yard and this had to be removed because it was dangerous. He told me I had to have the microwave out of my yard by the following Saturday.
I had called the Clay County Attorney's office on Friday, September 17, to report that the Barnesville City police had no state-mandated forms in place to file a complaint against the police, but she was out of the office until Monday.
When I talked to the Clay County Attorney on September 20, I requested her help in investigation the police actions in Barnesville because there were no state-mandated forms in place so I could follow proper procedure. She was quite frank in telling me she did not believe the city of Barnesville had no state-mandated complaint forms in place and when this happened in another county, the police had simply given the person the wrong forms.
She said she will not investigate other law enforcement agencies unless criminal charges are involved and suggested I call the Attorney General's office and ask for their help although she was well aware that I had already done this This response puzzled me since I was under the impression that doctoring police records was a criminal offence.
I called the County Attorney's Association and spoke with their Executive Director. His association has no investigative function, he said. It's the citizen's responsibility to address these issues. He wished he could help but had no suggestions.
I spoke with my contact again at the MN Attorney General's Office. She arranged for a conference call with the Attorney General's specialist on local government issues. He told me there was no state government agency to look at this problem with the Barnesville city police. I had exhausted all avenues open to me. The state delegates to municipalities the jurisdiction to run things. There isn't always a big brother even if local authorities are not doing their job. Doing a lousy job is not a criminal offence. There are many statues which the state has no agency to enforce. No state agency has any oversight in the running of local police departments.
I said I was suggesting that I was suggesting that doctoring of police records had possibly occurred and if I had broken a law, someone would be holding me accountable for it. He became verbally abusive at this suggestion.
I spoke with a representative of the Minnesota Governor's Office who deals with Public Safety issues. He told me I have to work locally with concerned citizens to change things. Governor Ventura believes one person can make a difference. He repeated the oft-told story of Ventura's successfully organizing a neighborhood to bring about change.
He did not see the state as liable for not providing a system of checks and balances. I could certainly contact my state representatives and senators, but he didn't see any state inclination to meddle with local affairs.
I wrote a second letter to the Clay County Attorney requesting an investigation of the police and what appeared to be doctoring the reports, especially since there was no complaint procedure in place.
She wrote me a letter refusing to investigate or help with my complaint, reiterating that the proper procedure was to appeal to the local officials to correct the problems.
I sent a letter to the Clay County Attorney once again asking her to investigate the police problems here because there were no complaint forms in place, in violation of state statute. My contact at the POST Board had verified this.
I copied this letter to the following people:
Larry Costello, Clay County Sheriff
Dave Norden, POST Board
Office of Crime Victims Ombusdman
Mike Hatch, MN Attorney General's Office
Collin Peterson, U.S. Representative
Rod Grams, U.S. Senator, and
Paul Wellstone, U.S. Senator.
The Clay County Attorney refused for the second time to look at the police situation here in Barnesville and instructed me that the proper procedure was for me to write a letter to my city council about the police problems.
My understanding from the Minnesota Attorney's General's office was that the county attorney did have authority to request such an investigation, but for some reason, even with the suspected doctoring of police records, her knowledge of the ticket I was served, and her knowledge that there were no complaint forms in place, she would not honor my request for such an investigation.
I received two responses from the people copied. One was a form postcard from Senator Wellstone's office saying this was a state issue and not something for him to address. The second response was the phone call noted in the next entry.
I received a phone call from Senator Grams's office. Although a U.S. Senator, like Wellstone, Grams's legislative assistant responded to my letter with a phone call. He advised me that the County Attorney was answerable to the County Commissioners, and I should write to my County Commissioners with my request. He also suggested that the State Police Association may have some way to help.
He agreed that there is no state entity to offer any sort of protection of individuals in a situation like this. While working for a U.S. Senator for the state of Minnesota, he wanted to let me know that he agrees that the state legislators in MN need to look at this issue. In his opinion, the state of MN has indeed broken the chain of government between individuals and their federal rights.
I wrote a letter to the Mayor and City Council of Barnesville about the situation, per the Clay County Attorney's suggestion.
On 6/21/2000, I received a letter from the city of Barnesville saying that since I hadn't asked them to do anything, they were not doing anything about my letter.
I sent the a letter to the Clay County Commissioners referencing the refusal of Barnesville to do anything about my complaints and requesting that the Clay County Attorney be asked to investigate the Barnesville police. I copied my MN state representatives Robert Westfall and Keith Langseth.
I received a letter from the Clay County Commissioners that they were supporting their County Attorney in her decision to not investigate my complaint
Neither Westfall nor Langseth acknowledged the copy of my letter to the Clay County Commissioners which I sent them.
Court Dates: My attorney was unable to get the spite-fence neighbors to negotiate on anything.
We requested copies of all the videotapes the spite-fence neighbors had taken, but these were not provided.
The case came up for pretrial on September 25, 2000. At pretrial we once again asked for all the videos. One video was provided during pretrial in response to our request. It had been taken the day before pretrial, by the spite-fence neighbor, as he walked up and down my driveway on my property, commenting on the niceness of his fence and pointing out "his" survey posts.
Trial was set for December 14, 2000.
The judge's decision was rendered January 16th, 2001.
The judge made a point of saying he did not find the spite-fence neighbor a credible witness, but allowed the fence to stand anyway.
My attorney said he was unable to find any appealable issues in the decision.
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Essay on Minnesota's Banana Republics
Additional Rights Violation Incidents
List of Violations
The Devil's Advocate: FAQ
Links Related to Civil and Individual Rights Issues
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