STETTIN, WI — An elderly couple was traumatized when two dozen sheriff’s deputies swarmed their rural home, prepared to confiscate their property because of zoning ordinance violations.
The outrageous raid took place at the 20-acre property of Roger and Marjorie Hoeppner, who live in a wooded area on Highway 29 in the tiny town of Stettin, Wisconsin. The October raid was the culmination of years of harassment from the town against the couple, which Mr. Hoeppner believes is a “vendetta” against him.
It all stems from the town of Stettin — population 2,554 — making forcible demands to property owners about the appearance of their private land. The town, including Town Chairman Matt Wasmundt, took a particular interest in the Hoeppners’ property, which contains tractors, stacks of pallets, and other property belonging to the couple.
Mr. Hoeppner runs a business in which he repairs both tractors and broken pallets. Aside from interfering with his income, Hoeppner objects on the belief that he was being singled out, as he believes many other residents fall afoul of the same ordinances.
The six-year legal fight is summarized by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
In 2008, the town sued Hoeppner over claimed violations of ordinances about zoning, signs, rubbish and vehicles. About a year later, the two sides settled; Hoeppner was supposed to clean up his property, and the town was supposed to open discussions about its zoning.
The town felt Hoeppner had not complied, and it brought a motion for contempt and enforcement. In September 2010, a judge ordered Hoeppner to remove certain items from his land.
The following May, the judge found Hoeppner had still not complied and authorized the town to seize assets. In the summer of 2011, the town hauled away several tractors, pallets, equipment and other items and auctioned them off for “pennies on the dollar,” according to Lister.
But the dispute wasn’t over. In April 2013, the judge entered a final judgment that imposed a $500-a-day fine against Hoeppner for not adhering to the original May 2011 order, and granting the town’s legal fees.
Hoeppner appealed, but lost in a March ruling. So by Oct. 2, he owed the town about $80,000, according to court records, and the Town of Stettin obtained a writ of execution to collect — without notice to Hoeppner or his attorneys, they say.
To collect the egregious $80,000 fine, officials called up some muscle to present a show of force against the elderly couple. The Marathon County Sheriff’s Department dutifully followed orders and marched onto the Hoeppners’ property and put the homeowner in shackles.
A total of 24 deputies participated in the raid, and brought their armored quarter-million-dollar Lenco Bearcat vehicle.
The deputies literally drove Mr. Hoeppner to the bank and forced him to withdraw money from his retirement account to pay off the extortive court order.
Mrs. Hoeppner was so traumatized by the raid that she had to be taken to the hospital.
“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 police raid, said attorney Ryan Lister to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
The lawful oppression of the Hoeppners — which cost the couple $200,000 in legal fees and fines — perfectly illustrates the inherent injustice of zoning ordinances. When petty tyrants are able to dictate the rules for other people’s private property, homeowners are faced with a choice to submit or potentially lose everything, even over the most menial of complaints.
Town Chairman Matt Wasmundt
Phone: (715) 571-1483
Email: [email protected]