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Monday, July 6, 2009

Alabama Man Protects Property Rights, Gets Shot For His Trouble

Joseph Holt decided he'd had enough of neighborhood thugs selling drugs on his property in the Kingston area of east Birmingham. So he confronted the thugs, told them to get off his property, and wound up getting shot in the foot as a result.

Holt's story teaches a valuable lesson about the importance of standing up for your private-property rights. And it resonates here at Legal Schnauzer because my legal headaches started from an effort to keep a troublesome and criminally inclined neighbor off our property.

The lesson from Mr. Holt? Here's how The Birmingham News summed it up:

"You have to stand up to people," Joseph Holt said, recovering from a gunshot wound to his right foot. "And if you're doing wrong on my property, it's my right to tell you to move."

Actually, it's Holt's right to tell you to move from his property, whether you are doing wrong or not. But that's beside the point. Mrs. Schnauzer says Holt is her new hero, and I agree that he deserves that title after showing remarkable courage.

The story began when Holt told three men selling drugs on his yard to leave. Unfortunately, that did not solve the problem:

Two men left, but the other started to leave then stopped and pulled out a pistol.

"He said, `What you gonna do?' And I told him `I'm not going to do nothing. I want you to still leave my property. A gun don't change that.'"

The assailant pointed the gun at his head and chest then asked for money.

Holt refused.

The gunman told him to strip.

"I told him `I'm not stripping out of nothing. You're going to have to shoot me,'" Holt said.

The gunman shot at the ground, hitting Holt in the foot. Holt was taken to a hospital and later released. Police still are looking for the suspect.

If Holt lived in Shelby County, where we live, here is what would happen to him--based on my experience.

If authorities brought a criminal trespassing case against the gunman, District Judge Ron Jackson would find the assailant not guilty because Holt did not give him written warning to stay off his property. Never mind that under Alabama law, you don't have to give any warning at all for a trespass conviction.

Once the gunman was acquitted, he would hire William E. Swatek as a lawyer to file a malicious prosecution lawsuit against Holt--and Circuit Judge J. Michael Joiner would let it move forward, even though Swatek failed to respond to Holt's motion for summary judgment and presented zero evidence to support the gunman's case.

Then Swatek would amend his lawsuit to add a conversion claim, charging that Holt refused to pull the bullet out of his foot and return it to the gunman. Circuit Judge G. Dan Reeves would sign a judgment in favor of the gunman, adding punitive damages because of the emotional distress inflicted upon the gunman from losing his bullet.

I know this sounds absurd, and I wish I was joking about it. But if Holt is treated in Jefferson County the way I was treated in Shelby County, that is exactly what will happen to him.

Perhaps Holt will encounter a few lawyers, prosecutors, and judges with integrity along the way. I haven't found many of those types, but I hope Holt finds them.

1 comment:

Robby Scott Hill said...

Let me tell what happens in many cities. If you ask the drug dealers to leave your property, the cops knock on your front door and question you. Then they warn that you had better be able to pass a drug test if you get into an altercation with the dealers.
Outside my friend's apartment, the drug dealers were staying up all night and dribbling a basketball on the sidewalk while they dealed. He called the cops. After they dispersed the dealers who were not arrested, the cops searched his apartment for drugs, finding nothing but beer and they warned him he'd be arrested for public intoxication if he left his apartment. As soon as the cops left, the dealers came back and started dribbling the basketball!