When all you have is a war hammer, everything looks like a war. That's how Wisconsin law enforcement viewed the task it was given: collection of an $80,000 civil judgment from a resident of Marathon County. What should have been a deputy or two approaching the resident and apprising him of his legal options, the Marathon County Sheriff's Department chose to handle it this way:
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.
This decision made national news in 2014. In the wake of the Ferguson protests, it was considered bad form to be turning normal police work into military maneuvers. But the Sheriff's office didn't care. Sheriff's Captain Greg Bean said 24 deputies and a military vehicle were a proportionate response. Deputies were needed to haul away the junk that had prompted the $80,000 civil settlement and Hoeppner had been known to be "argumentative" in the past.
But the fact is the squad of deputies could have shown up after the judgment and other legal issues had all been sorted out and someone being contentious in the presence of law enforcement officers is hardly justification for the use of an armored vehicle.
This bit of bad optics and worse judgment had resulted in another setback for Marathon County. As [former cop/current lawyer] Greg Prickett pointed out, it has also proven the local government sucks at math. The law enforcement man-hours and legal fees incurred by the county has turned its $80,000 judgment into at least a $10,000 loss.
A 79-year-old Wisconsin man who was arrested when two dozen deputies brought an armored vehicle to his home to enforce a civil judgment has settled his civil rights claim against Marathon County for $90,000.
I guess this stops the bleeding. At least local taxpayers can be grateful for that. If this had proceeded to trial, it likely would have run the county further into the red.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb dismissed Hoeppner's claim that the decision to enforce the civil judgment with so many deputies and the armored vehicle was unreasonable but said his claims that he was arrested without probable cause and that deputies violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights when they seized his phone and camera should go to a jury.
The county knows when it's beat. Hilariously, the same behavior that resulted in an $80,000 judgment against the 75-year-old -- the accumulation of used pallets and old mechanical equipment on Hoeppner's property -- continues to this day. The only change is the county no longer hassles Hoeppner about the stuff he keeps on his property. No more fines have been handed down and the county government no longer sends deputies by the dozen to keep Hoeppner in line. This whole debacle can't even be considered a Pyrrhic victory. It's been nothing but loss after loss -- in actual dollars and in collective government PR.