STETTIN, Wis., Oct. 26 (UPI) -- A small Wisconsin town sent an armored vehicle and 24 armed officers to collect a civil fine from a 75-year-old man.
Roger Hoeppner is filing a federal civil rights lawsuit after authorities came out in force to collect an $80,000 civil fine stemming from property disputes.
Marathon County Sheriff's Capt. Greg Bean says the armored vehicle was only sent to the property because Hoeppner initially refused to come out of his house.
"I've been involved in about five standoff situations where, as soon as the MARV [Marathon County Response Vehicle] showed up, the person gives up," Bean told the Milwaukee-Wisconson Journal Sentinel. "People may not always understand why, but an armored vehicle is almost a necessity now."
Hoeppner was arrested at the scene, reportedly for not following officer's instructions. He paid his $80,000 fine, after a trip to the bank accompanied by deputies, and was released.
The long-running dispute is centered on Hoeppner's 20-acre property, where he restores antique tractors and runs a pallet repair business. The Town of Stettin sued Hoeppner in 2008 over alleged zoning violations and rubbish, signs and vehicles on the property. The two sides settled, with Hoeppner agreeing to clean up his property.
In 2010 the town decided Hoeppner had not complied, and a judge ordered Hoeppner to clear his land. In May 2011, the judge authorized the seizure of Hoeppner's assets for noncompliance. The town did haul away a number of items including trailers and pallets and auctioned them off.
In April 2013, the judge decided Hoeppner was still noncompliant and imposed a $500-a-day fine in addition to granting the town's legal fees. Hoeppner appealed the decision and lost, leaving him $80,000 in debt to the town.
"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," Hoeppner's attorney, Ryan Lister, said.
Hoeppner says that in all, his battle with the town has cost him his retirement fund, some $200,000.
In a federal civil rights suit, Hoeppner alleges Town Chairman Matt Wasmundt infringed on his free speech rights by preventing him from addressing the board during public comment periods, and once having him arrested and released without charge.