by Claire Bernish
Southeast Oklahoma City residents Charles and Julie Henry face a blatantly unconstitutional invasion of their rights thanks to a stifling change to a city ordinance making vandalism to their property essentially a crime — by them.
Though the Henrys complied with the code, albeit a bit late due to a prohibitive financial situation, an opportunistic code enforcer triggered a chain of events no law-abiding property owner should ever be subjected to — including the possibility their property may be raided by Oklahoma County Sheriffs under a blanket warrant in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment.
According to a GoFundMe page set up to assist the family’s legal battle against the City, their low-income neighborhood typically experiences an outbreak of vandalism each spring — which the city promptly cleans up to discourage other vandals from copying.
But a startling change in city code placed the onus of responsibility for covering up vandals’ handiwork on property owners, essentially victimizing them twice — particularly for Charles and Julie who don’t have room in their budget to afford paint. And, as expected when spring came this year, the Henrys’ privacy fence became a canvas for vandals.
This time, however, the Henrys realized they’d run out of paint and had to buy more — which, due to budgetary reasons, took longer than expected. During the week it took the family to procure paint, a city code enforcement inspector performing the annual sweep cited the Henrys for the violation and demand the graffiti be covered.
But the inspector didn’t stop there — using his camera as a periscope, he peered behind the privacy fence and noted other minor violations of city ordinance and citing the Henrys for each one. Confronted by this blatant invasion of privacy, the inspector falsely claimed the “right of easement” allowed him onto the family’s property. Knowing that claim didn’t hold weight, Charles rightly told the code enforcer a warrant would be necessary for inspections and photographs — and though the inspector left immediately, he forked over the lengthy list of violations.
As proven in time-stamped pictures which appear on the GoFundMe page, the Henrys complied with the order to paint the fence less in less than a month, but responded to the additional violations with an appropriately-annotated list of U.S. Supreme Court rulings — showing Fourth Amendment reasons the case had no merit — demanding the city not proceed to enforce the inspector’s citations.
Two months without any response from the City, and the Henrys were never summoned to appear in Municipal Court. But it became clear the City simply ignored the legitimate, legal rebuttal of the citations when it filed the matter with Oklahoma County District Court, inaccurately claiming they supplied a written refusal to comply — and falsely stating they failed to address any of the citations, including that the fence was never painted.
As Steve Dickson, who started the GoFundMe page for the Henrys, explained,
“Based on the lie that the graffiti was never abated, the City is asking the District Court for a Writ of Assistance to enter the Henry’s property by force of the Oklahoma County Sheriff and is asking for what is in essence a ‘General Warrant’ to search the property for compliance of cited issues and for discovery of further issues.
“Think about that for a moment. Graffiti on a fence seems to give the city the idea that they have the right to invade private property on a witch hunt for more code violations by which they can fine, force removal of private property or jail the property owner under the protection of the county Sheriff’s office.”
In its egregious, overly-aggressive attempt to extort money and invade personal property under the protection of a gun and a badge, the city is acting no better than a common thug — or, perhaps more accurately, as an organized criminal.
Charles, who is disabled, has also endured a “long and debilitating illness,” while Julie, who had been the family’s only source of income for eight years, is now partially disabled after being seriously injured in a car accident in April 2015. Though they’ve managed to scrape by solely on the goodwill of friends and family, the Henrys obviously weren’t prepared to pay attorney’s fees for a case that never should have gone this far.
But the family remains active in other ways.
The Free Thought Project‘s own Lance Stolz spoke with Charles and Julie Henry in May of 2016, during the annual March Against Monsanto in Oklahoma City. The couple both gave speeches regarding sustainable living, gardening, and freedom. As Stolz explained:
“Charles Henry spoke with me at the march. He describes himself as a Voluntaryist, and was passionate about his YouTube channel where he documents how he makes homemade guns. Julie Henry is a sweet woman, just as passionate about personal liberty and incredibly knowledgeable about gardening.”
Charles and Julie Henry are due to appear in District Court on July 28.
With the city bullying the family into an expensive battle over a fence they’d always intended to paint — which they did — the Henrys are being unjustly victimized by the state because a vandal happened to choose their fence to deface. Worse, Charles’ attempt to stand up in his own defense under the Constitution likely didn’t even occur to others in the same position — meaning an untold number of families have been forced to pay the city for unconstitutionally-created citations.
These victimless offenses Oklahoma City — and undoubtedly many others around the nation — enforces against low-income, otherwise law-abiding citizens do only two things effectively: generate revenue and create victims where none should be.
Unfortunately, as the city’s actions prove, knowing your rights doesn’t necessarily guarantee the State — the thug government — will comply.
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