The tort is called "forcible entry and detainer." It's a very old legal concept, and one piece of case law says it's been around for almost 900 years -- long before Missouri became a state. Here is the gist of the tort: (1) If you think you have the right to possess certain property, you'd better be damned sure that you are correct; (2) If you plan to dispossess someone of property, you'd better be careful about using a "show of force."
Concern about the tort probably is the reason deputies concocted the story of a mythical 911 call in which I allegedly threatened to shoot anyone who tried to unlawfully evict us. The mythical call likely was created to give deputies an excuse to terrorize us. That plan, of course, had a slight problem -- I never made any such call or any such threat.
If you violate either of the two concepts outlined above, you could find yourself staring down the barrel at a "forcible entry and detainer" (FED) lawsuit. And I've found no citation that says creating a bogus 911 call allows you to skirt the repercussions of FED law.
Why is this an issue in our case? One, landlord Trent Cowherd did not have a legal right to re-possess his property, on at least four different grounds, and we've spelled those out in a series of posts. Two, Cowherd and his lawyer (Craig Lowther) clearly caused a "show of force," which included Greene County deputies pointing an assault rifle at my head and various pistols at both Carol and me. The show of force ended with Carol's left arm being snapped in two, just above the elbow -- an injury so severe that it required trauma surgery for repair.
|X-ray of Carol Shuler's broken arm|
FED cases can be found in Alabama. In fact, we were targets of the tort in Birmingham. When Spartan Value Investors conspired with Birmingham Water Works to have our water shut off, that is a form of forcible entry and detainer. In Missouri, the tort is covered under RSMo 534.020, which reads:
Forcible entry and detainer defined.
534.020. If any person shall enter upon or into any lands, tenements or other possessions, with force or strong hand, or with weapons, or by breaking open the doors or windows or other parts of a house, whether any person be in it or not, or by threatening to kill, maim or beat the party in possession, or by such words or actions as have a natural tendency to excite fear or apprehension of danger, or by putting out of doors or carrying away the goods of the party in possession, or by entering peaceably and then turning out by force, or frightening, by threats or other circumstances of terror, the party out of possession, and detain and hold the same in every such case, the person so offending shall be deemed guilty of a "forcible entry and detainer" within the meaning of this chapter.
That's a long-winded statute, but let's break it down into these elements:
(1) Entering onto property with "force or strong hand" can be . . . a bad idea;
(2) Entering property with "weapons" can be . . . a bad idea;
(3) Entering property by "threatening to kill, maim, or beat the party in possession" can be . . . a bad idea. (In our case, the cops did not just threaten to maim or beat a party in possession; they actually did it.)
(4) Entering property by use of words or actions that "have a natural tendency to excite fear or apprehension of danger" can be . . . a bad idea. (Again, we weren't just made to feel we were in danger -- we were in danger.)
(5) Entering property and "putting out of doors or carrying away the goods of the party in possession" can be . . . a bad idea;
(6) Entering property and "turning out" by force or "other circumstances of terror" can be . . . a bad idea.
All six of those elements were present during our eviction on Sept. 9, 2015. It's almost as if our experience was taken right out of a legal textbook. Details about FED law can be found in a Missouri case styled Walker v. Anderson, 182 SW 3d 266 (Mo: Court of Appeals, Western Dist., 2006):
In an unlawful detainer action, under section 534.200, RSMo 2000, "[t]he complainant shall not be compelled to . . . make further proof of the forcible entry or detainer than that he was lawfully possessed of the premises, and that the defendant unlawfully entered into and detained or unlawfully detained the same." "[T]he principal issue in an unlawful detainer action is the immediate right of possession. . . . "
That's the law in a nutshell. Under at least four grounds, we were "lawfully possessed of the premises." Cowherd, Lowther, and Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott caused deputies to "unlawfully enter . . . and unlawfully detain the same." Creating a bogus 911 call does not provide an excuse for such conduct.
As we've noted several times, tenants do not have many rights in the U.S., especially in Missouri (which must be one of the most pro-landlord states in the country). But if you are lawfully in possession of the premises, you do have a right not to be forced out via "strong hand," "weapons," "threats," and "circumstances of terror."
That law has held for 900 years, and it isn't likely to change soon.