Oklahoma City code enforcers are entering private property to search for opportunities to write tickets according to neighbors in the city’s Linwood neighborhood.
Earlier this month, Erin Smith discovered a car she has parked in her own backyard was ticketed three times for “parking on an unpaved yard.” According to Oklahoma City, parking a car on a lawn is one of the first signs a neighborhood is going downhill and can affect property values, but in this case there is no clear yard to be violated.
Smith showed The Lost Ogle around her home on North Drexel and the driveway that she shared with her neighbors. Looking at a picture of her home, you may have missed her car, which is easy to do because you cannot see it from the road as you drive north on Drexel:
In fact, the only way to safely see any car is back there at all is if you go north and look back towards the property. Even then, it appears to be a parking area that is attached to multiple garages for the apartments next door. The only way to know the car is parked on gravel is to actually enter Smith’s private property for a closer inspection.
Here are a couple of photos:
Once in the backyard, the inspector found other vehicles parked on private property out of the view of the public. After getting close enough to see that some compressed gravel was not technically paved, they issued everyone a $100 ticket.
“When we can see a violation from the street we believe we have probable cause,” explained OKC Spokeswoman Kristy Yager. “We believe we entered the property lawfully.”
Smith is a lawyer and is not only representing herself, but also her neighbors. She says it is a money-making scheme for the city and neither her car nor the neighbors are devaluing the neighborhood. She is concerned the city is trying to bully people who can’t afford to fight.
“That really gets my goat,” Smith told TLO. “They must not have expected to ticket a lawyer.”
Smith found out, in Oklahoma City, you cannot just fight a ticket. OKC first requires you to pay the ticket, plus $35 in order to contest the charges. In her case she was forced to pay $405 in order to secure a court date.
“$405 just to avail myself of my constitutional right to a hearing,” Smith said.
The rationale, if someone decides not to show up to contest their ticket, the city doesn’t have to issue a warrant they just keep the ticket money plus the extra cash.
TLO asked Oklahoma City Courts Administrator LaShawn Thompson why anyone should have to pay to access the courts.
“It is not designed to penalize the people,” Thompson explained, “Because if you do win your case you do get your money back, all of it.”
Thompson said if you cannot afford the ticket and the “bond” fee a judge will determine if you are unable to pay and will issue an “OR,” or “own recognizance” bond which allows people to still seek their hearing without being asked to put up any cash.
Smith believes not only did the city violate her constitutional rights by conducting an illegal search on her private property, but they are also bullying people into just paying tickets. She plans to not only request a hearing, but hopefully a jury trial to further expose what she calls a money grab.
Phil Cross is an award-winning investigative journalist and is now a reporter for hire with an eye on Oklahoma’s government, crime and corruption. You can find Phil on Twitter @philsnews.