By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 92.7 FM
The personal liberties secured under constitutional government are the fruit of simple promises.
In Dunlap, Tenn., an elderly couple hiding from authorities are simple enough to believe these promises and to stand firmly upon them.
The city’s civil prosecution against Thomas and Carol Gaddy in the small Southwest Tennessee town nestled in the glorious Sequatchie Valley is a picture of the disregard officials sometimes have against the liberty of the citizens.
Mayor Dwain Land, who seeks re-election Saturday, initiated civil proceedings to inspect the house of the couple which sits nestled along a winding creek a carbine shot away from city hall. Mr. Land is a major landlord in Dunlap, and interviews with a tiny sampling of renters of his ratty-looking mobile homes indicate he is a man of quick service and great integrity.
In 2015 he swore an affidavit that began the action to search the house without probable cause, or without a sworn affidavit alleging criminal conduct or connection with criminal conduct. He alleges it is a danger to public safety.
Carol Gaddy, 69, would have none of it, and her husband, 71, agrees. The devout Christians with a patriotic glint in their eyes are in hiding today because of a finding of contempt by a chancery court judge, Thomas W. Graham, who intends to compel them under duress to give their voluntary consent or remain jailed indefinitely once he can put their old bones behind bars.
Simple promises, beautiful liberties
The Tennessee Constitution promises the Gaddys their house is their castle. Their home cannot be entered upon by any officer of the law, any city administrator, any judge or any state, county or city agent if they say “No.”
And the Gaddys, in a notorious case of property rights abuse, are saying just that.
Without probable cause, you’re not allowed on the property.
Tennessee Constitution in the Bill of Rights says that the people “shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers and possessions, from unreasonable searches and seizures.” It prohibits what Dunlap city government is demanding, and that is a general search without an enumeration of the people or objects sought. Under law, general warrants are outlawed. General warrants are criminal in themselves.
“[G]eneral warrants, whereby an officer may be commanded to search suspected places, without evidence of the fact committed, or to seize any person or persons not named, whose offences are not particularly described and supported by evidence, are dangerous to liberty and ought not be granted.”
The city has spent more than $20,000 in hounding the innocent couple, advised by Stephen Greer, city attorney. Mr. Greer has forgotten the basics of constitutional law he learned as a law school student decades ago. Though his memory is cobwebbed, the language of state law is as fresh as a breeze blowing across the valley.
Stupid mistakes dog Dunlap’s abusive prosecution. An obvious one that remains uncorrected is that the case cannot be filed in chancery court, according to the charter — the General Assembly’s private law for Dunlap incorporated. Mayor Dwain Land and Mr. Greer are “venue shopping” by dodging city court, perhaps thereby avoiding a reasonable judge who might have kicked out the case.
The Gaddy case smells so bad that the first chancery judge who handled it, Jeffrey F. Stewart, though agreeing with the city, stepped out of the misdealings. Judge Graham ought to come to his senses and do the same thing: Step away, dismiss the case outright as a bungle, reject it as abusive of the constitutional guarantees.
Until that happens, Messrs. Land, Greer and Stewart appear to be in violation of an important citizen protection law in the Tennessee code. That law is the oppression statute, found at TCA 39-16-403. Anyone can go to the Tennessee code online at https://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/tncode/ To find it. Search for “oppression” and the law pops up.
The law requires that oppression under color of law be “intentional” and “knowing.” The Gaddys, in their many home-made pleadings (too poor to afford lawyer) have given sufficient notice about their constitutional guarantees to diminish any argument that city agents are acting in ignorance, or without the intentionality required in the law.
The Gaddy filings have been ample, their warnings about their rights numerous, and yet the city has plowed ahead for two years demanding to search their property. Either let inspectors in, or face a wrecking ball and mass excavator to bring your historic house in a heap to the ground.
Jennifer Lockhart Greer favors honest, limited government
No power to search or inspect exists apart from a criminal affidavit or warrant. No authority to search rises from the needs of administrative government. No power to search arises from civil or equitable claims.
Jennifer Lockhart Greer and most people in Dunlap live in a constitutional state, a state subject to the restraints of law. Mayor Land lives in a unitary total state, one in which administrative and civil desires give the authority to tromp on an innocent man’s castle.
Voters in Dunlap would be wise to throw Mr. Land from office, and install a schoolteacher with an interest in history and constitutional government, Mrs. Greer. She wants government to be honest. She says government should act only where warranted by law, and in all other cases leave the people to their property, duty and pleasures.