Four officials from the city of Dunlap stood in front of the Gaddy house Tuesday morning for eight minutes, waiting to be allowed in for an inspection
The refusal of Thomas and Carol Gaddy to yield to a judge’s order that they consent to a search brings them under the threat of jail under civil contempt in their cause in the county chancery court.
By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 101.1 FM
City attorney Stephen Greer paced about with inspectors Earl Geary and Bill Dennis representing the city. Mr. Greer chatted with police chief Clint Huth who stood with the three men before the group departed at 1:10 p.m.
Nearby were three Gaddy supporters, including Ruth Ann Wilson of Dayton and a couple, Rodney and Jennifer Edmonds, of Dayton, all devout and patriotic Christians.
Mrs. Gaddy had appeared at Mr. Greer’s office that morning and she had said she would not open the gate to allow an inspection. But “we came down here to give them the benefit of the doubt,” Mr. Greer said.
This reporter arrived on the scene a minute after the city people. Two minutes later, the party indicated it was ready to shove off. I suggested, however, that the 15-minute rule might be observed to show grace and good faith, a real desire to meet with the other party. What if Mrs. Gaddy had been caught in traffic, I supposed, or had had a flat tire returning from Chattanooga?
I was only half right. The group stayed eight minutes at the chain link gate and its rollers before departing.
Not in wrong court, lawyer says
I asked Mr. Greer if the city is bound by the charter that says issues and disputes arising under the ordinance have to be heard in city court. In 2015 he filed city claims in Sequatchie County chancery court.
Mr. Greer said no such provision exists in the charter. Google Dunlap city charter and look up the official PDF, I said.
Mr. Greer said, however, that chancery has jurisdiction. This claim implies a loose rather than a strict reading of the charter, a permissive reading. Yes, chancery would have jurisdiction absent a state law giving direction to the contrary. But the charter is the state’s law for the city, and says “all” issues arising under ordinance are heard in city court, the existence of chancery notwithstanding.
The Gaddy house is called “a dangerous building” under ordinance No. 88.
After this statement, Mr. Greer refused further comment. “I try my cases in the court, and not on the radio, man, I told you that,” he said.
The officials were here for eight minutes but did not do anything to aggressively pursue their claims by use of wire cutters or other machinery. Mrs. Gaddy arrived two minutes after they had departed.
‘Hope it all gets resolved’
In an interview a few minutes prior to the visit, Mayor Dwain Land said he hopes the controversy will come to an end with nobody dissatisfied. “The chancellor had ordered an inspection for today at 1 p.m. and I just hope she complies and we can move on with this.” Asked what inspectors are looking for, “Just updates on what she had done to the house *** over a couple of years, yessir,” he said.
Is probable cause needed for a search, one based on a sworn criminal warrant? asks a reporter. He demurred, referring the question to the city attorney. What are inspectors looking for? “I don’t really get involved with the day-to-day operations” part of city government, he said. The best outcome? “Mainly that she would comply with the judge and the city code enforcers, yessir. *** I hope that it all gets resolved.”
The Chattanooga attorney John Wolfe says any demand of a state actor to enter onto private property must be premised on probable cause of a crime having been committed. The treatment of the Gaddys appears to violate equal protection rules under due process. “Why isn’t this person being treated just like everybody else? Why are they different? What justifies the government singularly intruding upon them?” he says.
“They should resist, they should go to court and fight it and try to get an injunction,“ he says.
Probable cause is averred under oath. There is no civil authority to conduct a search, he indicates. No city has administrative authority to conduct what is effectively a criminal search.
“I just think it’s overstepping boundaries by local government that we should all be concerned with,” said Mrs. Edmonds, a Dayton, Tenn., mother of six children. “It’s very scary that this can happen to someone, that they can be imprisoned indefinitely until they give in to tyranny.”
Mrs. Gaddy said that she caught police chief Huth and asked if the city intends to break through the gate to get onto the property. He said no, she said. He told her Mr. Greer and the inspectors were “just doing their due diligence” in making an appearance, even though they’d been notified in writing the Gaddys would not be there and do not give consent.
The Gaddys are acting without benefit of counsel, and have been working under disadvantage. An appellate court opinion entered Jan. 17 in Nashville says the Gattys prematurely filed a petition for stay of jail for contempt. “However, the Dec. 27th, 2016, order does not hold the appellants in contempt or enter punishment. The order merely states the appellants may be held in contempt if they fail to comply with the order.”