By Roger Roots
As a crusading libertarian lawyer I often get phone calls from people who tell me they want to sue their local government officials in their snake pit of municipal corruption. They always have heartbreaking stories of City Hall stealing, robbing or destroying their homes, families or businesses.
I generally have to tell them to get in line. Every city and county in the country is corrupt. And state and federal regulators are even worse. Victims of government abuses often don’t have a clearly winnable case unless they can produce actual emails, videos or other hard evidence of municipal regulators saying explicitly that they are plotting to destroy them by breaking the law. And local judges bend over backward to protect local officials and their petty speed traps, zoning enforcement, preposterous licensing regs, nuisance laws and other scams.
But a car wash in Dallas, Texas may have a case.
For 15 years, the City of Dallas has been targeting, threatening and harassing the car wash owners, Dale and Freddy Davenport. The neighborhood is crime ridden, and the Davenports have been repeatedly told that their car wash is a hub of crime. The Devenports maintain a constant presence, cleaning and monitoring the property; but it is never enough for the City of Dallas. A local judge once ordered the Devenports to hire shifts of two licensed peace officers at a time to patrol the property “for 24 hours per day, seven days a week, to be sure that the Property is secured and not being trespassed upon.”
Such security would cost the Davenports $50,000 a month. The figure was so outrageous that a special committee of the Texas legislature investigated and found that Dallas was using the nuisance laws to pressure businesses to hire off-duty cops. And Dallas cops were getting rich off the scheme. The investigation also concluded that Dallas cops were running a type of protection racket; cops told businesses not to expect any police patrols or assistance unless the businesses hired lots of off-duty cops as security guards.
And the security companies which employed the off-duty cops were owned by local Dallas officials. “Those who refuse to play by such rules, the committees heard repeatedly, found themselves the target of random police searches, fire and other code inspections and costly, time-consuming litigation,” according to The Dallas Observer.
It was organized crime.
Back in 2002 a Dallas police officer used mace on a man in the parking lot. The officer later said the man was resisting arrest, but Dale Davenport testified to the contrary in court. The day after, someone shot a bullet through a window at Dale Davenport’s home. And on the day the maced victim was acquitted of resisting arrest, 17 DPD vehicles and 26 officers blocked the car wash’s driveway, preventing customers from entering. Dallas police Chief David Kunkle later admitted under oath that the officers’ behavior was “very unprofessional” and “designed to intimidate and coerce.”
In 2012, the city even amended its zoning districts so that it didn’t allow car washes in the district, “though no document on the agenda hinted at this change” in advance. The Davenports were forced, once again, into court to save their carwash.
Now after 16 years of abuse by the City of Dallas, the Davenports have filed suit in federal court.
(photo by Jim Schutze of the Dallas Observer)