Property Rights

Tulsa Officials Destroy Woman's Survival Garden

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Before and After: Denise Morrison's flower bed

"We don't care."

That was reportedly the response of Tulsa, Oklahoma, code enforcement teams after illegally destroying Denise Morrison's garden on August 15, 2011. Morrison, a longtime Tulsa resident, tearfully watched from her driveway while local officials ignored her protests and cut down her flowers, plants, and trees.

"Every word out of their mouth was, 'We don't care,'" Morrison told KOTV. Even after she showed them the city ordinances, proving that her garden complied with city law, the response remained the same.

Morrison, who was unemployed at the time of her property's unauthorized destruction, used her yard as a sort of survival garden, growing over 100 varieties of edible and medicinal plants. From fruit trees to herbs that helped ease pain from her arthritis, Morrison had a purpose for every single one of her plants—which, under local law, meant that she was well within her legal right to maintain her garden. According to Tulsa city ordinances, plants may only grow over 12 inches tall if they're fit for human consumption. Since Morrison had dealt with local code enforcement in the past, she made sure that she could chow down on all her plants.

So last August, when city inspectors sent the Tulsa resident a letter telling her they wanted the garden to go, she took it up to the local courts, knowing that she was within her legal growing rights. She knew she'd win. Or, at least, that she should've won.

The day after she went to the courthouse, Morrison came home to men chopping down everything in her garden down—walnut trees, garlic chives—you name it, it was gone.

"Not only are the plants my livelihood, they're my food and I was unemployed at the time and had no food left, no medicine left, and I didn't have insurance," Morrison told reporters. "They took away my life and livelihood."

Almost a year later, Morrison is finally getting her day in court. On Friday, she filed a civil rights lawsuit, accusing local officials of overstepping their bounds.

Unfortunately, cases like Morrison's aren't the exception. Check out these stories of zoning officials getting too big for their britches: from a Michigan woman getting 93 days in the slammer for her vegetable garden to Austin, Texas, officials filling in a resident's fallout-shelter-turned-home-office with 264 tons of concrete—and later charging him for the damage done.