Nanny State

Put Up a Sign Warning of Drowning Danger, Get Fined $5,000: Government is Just the Way We Make Sure We Can't Help Each Other [UPDATED! Charges Dropped!]


[UPDATE: The Washington County sheriff's office now claims that, even though Medill's citation said he owed $5,000, that was just a mistake, and anyway the charges have been dropped. Forgive my cynicism for imagining that press coverage may have played a role more than the department's good sense.]

Sometimes the point that government stepping in to do supposedly helpful things can crowd out or destroy the spirit of self- and community help by which a human civilization best functions is subtle and hard to see.

Police in Washington County, Oregon, made it very obvious this week by slamming 66-year-old Michael Medill with a $5,000 fine for putting up six (or maybe eight, press accounts varied) homemade warning signs that Henry Hagg Lake, which has seen four members of one family drown last month, is dangerous for swimmers.

As reported by Portland TV station KGW:

After bolting eight signs to posts and trees Sunday at the lake, he received a citation from Washington County deputies for criminal mischief. The signs were removed.

Washington County deputies told KGW Madill was installing his signs with lag bolts into live trees and into the support beams for shelters along the shore. They said when the parks department worked to remove them, the bolts broke off in the tree trunks.

Bolts broke off in tree trunks! Well, this can't go on. The designated authorities, rather than warning signs, have just tried to cordon off the lake as of this morning to prevent swimming entirely in that part of the lake. had earlier reported:

Sgt. Vance Stimler, a public information officer for the Washington County Sheriff's Office, [said] bolting signs to posts and trees could bring about a criminal mischief charge possibly resulting in a fine.

However, "If someone is really concerned about safety out there," he said, "we're not interested in throwing the book at them." Stimler said the sheriff's office would initially take the signs down, but try to help an individual like Medill bring about change "the right way."

They did, however, fine Medill the five grand.