Update: DelawareOnline identifies the lying woman in the video as Lt. Jennifer Griffin, a Delaware State Trooper. According to the Delaware State Police website, a Lt. Jennifer Griffin is also the Assistant OIC of the DSP Honor Guard. Assuming this is the same woman, she ought to be relieved of that prestigious position. After all, she apparently couldn’t even be bothered to change out out of her “FBI” sweatsuit before starting her morning lying to homeowners and ripping down basketball goals.
First, here’s the video if you haven’t seen it. (Hat Tip to Hot Air for the link)
Now for the background: As you probably gathered from the video, one of the grouchy neighbors, who apparently hates kids playing basketball, called DelDOT to anonymously report eight code infractions. DelDOT sent out certified letters informing homeowners of the infractions. Then, they hurried out with a police escort, lied to the homeowner, and ripped down his 60-year-old basketball goal. Meanwhile, McCafferty (the man in the video) is well on his way to becoming the next “Joe the Plumber.”
There are a number of problems with the events in this video. According to the Associated Press, “John McCafferty, 46, said the pole has been on the property since the 1950s, long before the Clear Zone law was enacted, and that he believes it is exempted from the law.” After researching the statute, I agree with him. The law in play is Delaware Title 17 § 525 which reads in part:
(a) The Department is authorized to maintain clear zones within the rights-of-way under its jurisdiction. In maintaining these clear zones, the Department shall have the immediate authority to remove artificial obstructions placed therein, including, but not limited to, nonofficial signs, poles, mailboxes not placed in conformance with Departmental regulation, or other hazards to safe passage. ….
(b) As used in this chapter, the term “clear zone” has the following meanings: ….
a. Seven feet perpendicular to the pavement edge, or
b. If there is a sidewalk adjacent to the street, the sidewalk edge further from the street.
Based only on a quick overview of the statute, the basketball goal’s placement seems to violate the law. However, section 525 didn’t exist until it was created by House Bill 234 which was approved in June, 1998, nearly 50 years after the basketball goal was installed. As such, the basketball goal should be grandfathered in under the building codes that existed when it was installed, and should not be subject to DelDOT’s “clear zone” authority (which didn’t yet exist). In fact, this “grandfathering in” is the often the reason developers choose not to tear down outdated signs as the new code would prohibit a replacement. On lakefront property, one can find examples of homeowners who conduct a piecemeal “renovation” of their dock in order to remain exempt from more strict surface coverage restrictions.
Even if the law did allow DelDOT to remove the basketball pole, the conduct of the officers was unacceptable. McCafferty is told by both the female in the sweatshirt, (it’s unclear to me which agency exactly she is with), and an officer just off screen that he will be allowed to keep his basketball goal after it is removed. Shortly thereafter, DelDOT hauls off the basketball goal and the same woman who just said, “they’ve asked people if they’ve wanted them; they’ll lay it in your driveway” tells him, “No, all of them have gone,” and he can come and pick it up later. She then threatens to have him arrested if he doesn’t go inside as if she didn’t know lying to someone’s face and driving off with their property might upset them.
Under the law, anything removed by DelDOT is supposed to be held until all fines are paid. The problem here isn’t the actions of the DelDOT employees who seized the pole, but rather, that the officers all knew that this was the law, and lied to the homeowner anyway. The man is clearly frustrated by the “seizing” of his basketball goal, but he doesn’t become visibly enraged until her lie is revealed. Even worse, based on his responses, it appears that none of the officers will even admit to the lie. Are they really that arrogant? With a video camera on site, they ought to have known the lie was caught on tape.
Finally, this is an excellent example of excess regulation. With so many laws on the books, enforcement becomes impossible. As such, there is only selective enforcement, in this case based on an anonymous tip-line. The law becomes a tool used by grouchy neighbors to execute what amounts to legal harassment on their neighbors. Part of me hopes that those who lost their basketball goals will start reporting every possible code infraction on the grouchy neighbor’s property. Another part of me hopes that Delaware will start to pare back its regulations until only those that are necessary remain, but that’s probably wishful thinking on my part.