City of Austin Ruins Man's Home, Gives Him the Bill for the "Service"; He Now Sues


Details from the Austin-American Statesman:

Two years ago today, Joe Del Rio was awakened to find city officials at the door of his lifelong home in East Austin, demanding entry. Before it was over, the Police Department's SWAT team and the Fire Department had been deployed, and Del Rio said he was detained and questioned for about 10 hours because of what officials called a multilevel bunker-like space under the house with suspicious and unusual materials.

After the city billed Del Rio in April for about $90,000 in repairs it said were critical to make the home on Canterbury Street safe, Del Rio sued the City of Austin last week for what his lawyers say was a heavy-handed and unconstitutional seizure of his property without compensation….

Del Rio said the space in question started out as a Cold War-era fallout shelter — by no means uncommon at the time — which he later expanded into what he described as a work space when he took possession of the family home.

According to city records, code compliance inspectors visited Del Rio's house in 2008 and 2009 in response to neighbors' complaints about holes. In 2009, records show, he built a retaining wall that he said also elicited a complaint.

Yep, there's a political paranoia angle–not Del Rio's, but the city's:

Del Rio's description of his questioning by police and city officials in May 2010 suggests that they thought they might have another "Unabomber" on their hands. They questioned why he was shirtless and his hair was messed up. His response was that he had been awakened at 7 a.m. on a Saturday. City crews also found military memorabilia, inoperable hand grenades and a collection of about a dozen firearms in the home.

Del Rio's lawyers Monday produced documents stating that Del Rio was a military veteran with a high security clearance who later worked as a part-time security guard for the Austin City Council.

"He guarded the council 22 years, and now nobody's guarding his rights," lawyer Mack Ray Hernandez said.

Ah, the "services" the city provided!

Del Rio also said officials concreted in the basement, fenced and locked the perimeter of the home and removed utility meters, making the house, in its current state, uninhabitable. The suit says that at the time of the seizure, Travis Central Appraisal District records put the house's reasonable fair market value at upward of $172,000.

But–public safety? Not really:

Round Rock structural engineer Jeffrey Tucker, whom Del Rio hired when he was putting in the 9-foot concrete and steel rebar retaining wall, said he inspected the wall and the rest of the house in 2009.

"It appeared it was structurally safe," Tucker said Monday. "I did not see anything that indicated it would fall in."

A video interview with Del Rio appears at Off Grid Survival, that article also featuring this detail: Austin "brought in contractors and completely filled in his entire basement and bunker with 264 tons of concrete."