A 75-year-old man from Stettin, WI owed the city $80,000 for various violations of nuisance laws and refused to pay. What happened next is about as chilling as it gets in America.
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.
Hoeppner’s wife was so upset by the military tactics employed by the police that she had to go to the hospital.
To be sure, Hoeppner had no legal leg to stand on. And he’s apparently a disagreeable sort of fellow.
But the politicians in the town may have had another motive for employing maximum force:
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.
A citizen standing up to authorities – free-speaking, cantankerous, and dismissive of their authority – gets a visit by 24 deputies with guns drawn and an armored vehicle. I’d say there’s more to this case than the town is letting on.