Veteran Bucks the Former Mayor of Phoenix, City Makes Him Pay for More Than a Decade

Robert Stapleton says his troubles began when he refused to sell to an influential developer.

|

Sayan Moongklang/Dreamstime

Robert Stapleton was a United States Marine in Vietnam. The war left him injured, and with a desire to be alone, and far away from people.

When he came back to the States, he moved his then-wife and their young son out to a small house on a half-acre plot of land on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona.

"I was just spent when I got done with the whole thing," Stapleton tells Reason of his experience. "I came to the desert to rest and regroup. And this was fine, this little house."

For thirty years, Stapleton raised horses and plied his trade as a blacksmith while the city slowly grew up around him. During that time, says Stapleton, no one seemed to care much about his property or what he did with it.

Until the former mayor of Phoenix set eyes on it.

In 2006, Larry Herring, a representative for former mayor Phil Johnson offered Stapleton $225,000 for his property. Johnson intended to build condominiums next door. Stapleton told Herring his offer was much too low.

Herring, Stapleton says, told him if he didn't sell, "bad things are going to happen to you" and that "a stone wall is going to fall on you."

Since then Stapleton has been struggling to keep the stone wall from crushing him. His story first came to light during an an investigation into Arizona's city courts by Mark Flatten with the Goldwater Institute.

Stapleton's fight, Flatten tells Reason, illustrates how the power of government is arrayed against justice for its citizens. "Everyone you are up against works for the city council," Flatten says. "The whole system leaves defendants with very little due process, and with very little independent review."

Shortly after rebuffing Herring's offer, city officials cited Stapleton with six violations of the zoning code, everything from a fence that was too high, to vehicles improperly parked. The fines were $2,500 and came with the threat of six months in jail for each violation.

Stapleton argued each of the violations were for long-standing features of his property, necessary for raising horses. "These things are farm things, and it's a farm," Stapleton says. "You didn't bother me for thirty years. Now somebody wants the property, you want to bother me. And they were going to send me to jail to do it."

Stapleton chose to fight. The city rejected his request for a jury trial and in May 2007, a city judge fined Stapleton $15,000 and sentenced him to three years probation on the condition that he address his code violations or go to jail.

At the same time the city was punishing Stapleton it was granting multiple variances to the ex-mayor's development next door, one of them to allowed him to build a fence a foot higher than the one for which it fined Stapleton.

"They don't use the law to help people. They use the law to hurt people, and they use the law to hurt specified people," he says.

Stapleton agreed to pay off his fines in $500 monthly installments, but refused to make the changes demanded by the court. Rather than let the matter go, prosecutors sought jail time even though Stapleton had suffered a stroke. In April 2010, he was sentenced to 60 days in the Maricopa County Jail and 45 days of home detention. Jailers disqualified him from detention for health reasons and sent him home.

Stapleton's public defender, Laurie Herman told the Flatten that the city was looking to make an example of Stapleton. "He was treated unusually harshly because he didn't cave…and because he didn't submit to the authority, that really irked them."

The city of Phoenix denies it singled out Stapleton for especially harsh treatment, or that it doing so because of pressure from Johnson. In response to written questions submitted by the Flatten, the city said, "if the court finds the owner responsible but he still refuses to clean up the property, the city prosecutor may file criminal charges. The Stapleton case went through all steps of this process."

Johnson also told Flatten that he never leaned on the city to pursue Stapleton's case.

Stapleton paid off his fines in December 2015, but his troubles might not be over. The Goldwater Institute obtained emails from Justin Johnson, son of the ex-mayor and manager of the now completed housing development, to city officials pointing out more code violations on Stapleton's property.

Stapleton says he's prepared to fight for his rights all over again again, telling Reason it's not just about his property, it's about justice.

"It's just engrained in my mind," he says. "You stand for the right, because it's right. When you think there is something wrong, do something. Don't quibble, do something."

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

93 responses to “Veteran Bucks the Former Mayor of Phoenix, City Makes Him Pay for More Than a Decade

  1. This is the plot of Rambo VI.

    1. Well it does sound like a better plot than II – V

      1. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link,
        go? to tech tab for work detail,,,,, http://Onlinereviewtech.com

    2. Don’t give Sly any ideas.

  2. “””They don’t use the law to help people. They use the law to hurt people, and they use the law to hurt specified people,”‘

    It’s what government does best.

    1. No, no, it’s just that a bad person somehow slipped through and got into a position meant only for angels.

    2. That’s what governments are for–get in a man’s way.

    3. Government is just the word we use when we hurt people together.

    4. Unless he can point out that he is the only one who has been cited for the same violations he won’t have much of a case. Cities grow up. He will lose this one. Choose your battles.

  3. This is power. This is what people with power do.

    1. -“A powerful man doesn’t have to be cruel.”

      -“No, but they usually are.”

  4. This article has mixed up the names of mayors.

    Paul Johnson and Phil Gordon are two different people. There is no former mayor Phil Johnson.

    Naturally, Phil Gordon is a Democrat.

    1. As is Paul Johnson.

    2. Perhaps they were spliced together genetically, like in the Cronenberg version of ‘The Fly’. One monstrous super crooked democrat.

    3. You think a Republican wouldn’t have done the same thing? There is no “naturally” here. Both parties are corrupt, it’s just what are they corrupt over . Republicans want to take away personal freedom and force Christianity and church down your neck and tell us that brown people are bad. Democrats want to force regulations and “fixing everything and the kitchen sink” with my tax dollars. You’re living in a Dream world if you think that Republicans are any better.

  5. Disgusting. We do get a sob story about him being a veteran and such, but even without that this is a disgusting abuse of power. Such a flagrant display. Phoenix’s rapid growth has made it more and more a hive of scumbag politicians.

    1. See also: every city since Sumer

  6. “I came to the desert to rest and regroup.”

    Was he naive enough to think that in the desert there would be no-one for to give him no pain?

    “The city rejected his request for a jury trial and in May 2007, a city judge fined Stapleton $15,000 and sentenced him to three years probation on the condition that he address his code violations or go to jail.”

    Maybe it’s time for Reason to take up a crusade for the right to trial by jury?

    1. Exactly how does the city get to prevent a jury trial when a jail sentence is a possible result?

      1. I presume it’s the so-called petty offense exception.

        “Although the Sixth Amendment provision does not differentiate among types of criminal proceedings in which the right to a jury trial is or is not present, the Court has always excluded petty offenses from the guarantee in federal courts, defining the line between petty and serious offenses either by the maximum punishment available or by the nature of the offense. This line has been adhered to in the application of the Sixth Amendment to the States and the Court has now held “that no offense can be deemed ‘petty’ for purposes of the right to trial by jury where imprisonment for more than six months is authorized.” A defendant who is prosecuted in a single proceeding for multiple petty offenses, however, does not have a constitutional right to a jury trial, even if the aggregate of sentences authorized for the offense exceeds six months.”

        1. Although the constitution doesn’t say you can do this, courts go ahead and do it anyway.

        2. Thanks.

          That is nuts though.

        3. Huh thanks for this, I had never heard of it before.

  7. Semper Fi.
    Start a go fund me page buddy; all Marines and many citizens will back you.

    1. He probably lacks the acumen. He may not even have internet access.

      Someone else has to do it for him.

      1. Or, I should say, he’s an older guy and probably doesn’t even know about crowdfunding. Maybe.

      2. I always figured I’d start one and then get hit for the taxes on it after I gave the donations to whatever cause. The government is pretty evil about getting their cut on any $$ that are flowing.

  8. The city rejected his request for a jury trial and in May 2007, a city judge fined Stapleton $15,000 and sentenced him to three years probation on the condition that he address his code violations or go to jail.

    I feel like I’ve heard something about this sort f thing before. Something about a speedy and public trial something something…

    1. I seem to recall making a similar comment regarding Joe Arpaio (isn’t he from the same part of the country)?

      If we create an “unsympathetic person” exception to the 6th Amendment, don’t forget who decides who’s unsympathetic.

      1. Joe Arpaio is from Massachusetts. Completely different.

      2. This was in Maricopa, apparently the nation’s cruelest lawman thought keeping Stapleton in jail was too much.

        1. Arapaio wouldn’t have cared if this guy rotted in jail. It was probably just some pragmatic jailer who didn’t want a sick and dying man in his jail cell.

      3. Same fricking county even.

      4. Arpiao is from the same area, you are talking about the drug dealing goverment fund stealing racist ex sherriff that trump humps weekly arent you

    2. 6th amendment;
      “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy . . . ”
      Are zoning violations civil or criminal?

      1. You should go visit him in jail and ask him.

      2. The zoning violation itself is civil. Not correcting the violation (read: standing up to the government) is criminal.

        1. “Stapleton was hit with six criminal charges for zoning violations on his property a short time later. Each of those charges carried penalties of up to six months in jail and $2,500 in fines.”

          1. (From the Goldwater Foundation report)

        2. They get people on the civil offense but not paying the debt becomes it a criminal offense, that’s how they get you thrown in jail for civil offenses.

  9. with a desire to be alone, and far away from people.

    Respect.

    1. He sure was paranoid, wanting to be away from people! /sarc

    2. Hopefully he gets a huge settlement that lets him move further out again. As of right now he’s in the 4th biggest city in the US.

      1. Why should he move? They’re the ones that suck!

        1. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to weld everyone except me to the wall?”

    3. And yet he decided to stick it out as the city grew up around him. I sort of doubt the sincerity here. Cities have zoning restrictions and you can choose to move. It happens every single day. People are living in a dream world if they think they can ignore city laws. Gotta choose your battles. If he wants to fight this and go to jail, that’s on him. I’m just surprised the city didn’t put a lien on his property against fines not paid and take it.

      1. I live in Mississauga in Canada. We had farms with cows in the city for at least a decade before the farmers sold out to developers. By “in the city” I mean the farms were adjacent to residential developments and I used to pass by cows when I would walk home from school. So I think its quite possible to take a “grand-fathered” approach to the situation and be fairly tolerant to hold-outs for very very long periods of time. You can’t have a city with cows and pigs on every street corner like China or India but its quite doable to have a city that is mostly developed with a few farms here and there.

  10. In response to written questions submitted by the Flatten, the city said, “if the court finds the owner responsible but he still refuses to clean up the property, the city prosecutor may file criminal charges. The Stapleton case went through all steps of this process.”

    Procedures were followed. Nothing to see here.

    1. It’s a non-response, it doesn’t say *why* the prosecution was commenced.

      1. PROCEDURES. WERE. FOLLOWED.

        1. “STOP RESISTING!!!”

  11. The lesson to be learned here is you have to actively know and protect your rights. The Mrs and I are in a very similar situation. We purchased a small 14 acre farm on the outskirts of a large metropolitan area. We looked at a number of parcels and carefully chose one. We chose 14 acres because in our state you can get an agricultural exemption if you have more than 10 acres. The law in our state protects ag participants from the encroachment of development. You can only be zoned into a municipality if you volunteer, you cannot be forced. If you aren’t zoned in you are only responsible for county ordinances not city. We were careful to select land that was rural and had no homeowner association. Of course all this works only as long as the state doesn’t change the law.

    1. I’m sure if the law changes it would be for your own good.

      1. All bureaucrats are created equal.

    2. Or if you buck the man, the next week you find yourself pulled over for a broken taillight, and by golly, there were 5 or 6 seeds of suspicious origin found in the seat cushions.
      Without a charge, or trial, or anything, your car, your money, and lands are forfeit as the proceeds of drug dealing.
      Now all you have to do (without any funds left) is post a massive bond and prove to the guys that took your stuff that they were wrong, and you are right. Shouldn’t take much more than five or ten years if they don’t stall the process.
      Of course, during those ten years, someone else has purchased the government land, and built an apartment building on it. Oh, well.

      1. The american dream “one traffic stop from incarceration, one paycheck away from being homeless” welcome to america, add the three jobs you must work if in arizona to that list too. Oh how nice it is

    3. What’s the difference between a “14 acre farm” and a “small 14 acre farm”

      1. It’s not the size of your farm, it’s how you plow the acreage.

        1. [cue: moos of approval]

          1. Is fucking cows an intimidation tactic against SIV?

            1. The thought of a mammalian tract makes SIVs dick soft so fast it whistles.

      2. A “Smallacre” is an uncommonly used measure of area defined as “144 flatplanes of a hogshead.”

        1. That clears everything up!

      3. To a normal person there is no problem. To a semantics driven asshole it means everything.

  12. Write 5 of these articles for every 1 “hot-take on Trump-tweet”/”equivocating gibberish about campus kerfuffles”…

    …and maybe this magazine can get its groove back

    1. So, I’m biased and love seeing Arizona pop up because I’m a fanboy, but I sure do love when they write about areas that aren’t California, New York, or DC. I imagine Iowa is probably up to some shit at this very moment.

      1. I sure do love when they write about areas that aren’t California, New York, or DC

        Yes, it feels so *exotic and foreign*

      2. Not much of the usual buffoonery going down in CA right now, seeing as half my state is currently on fire. Again…

        1. It’s gods way of punishing them for not voting for ZUUL! or something…

  13. I’m sort of imagining Atlantic City saying, “What the fuck is wrong with Phoenix? Just take the damned land away from him and give it to Trump!”

  14. Next they’ll probably do a Number Six on him.

      1. “Yes, sir, getting my kicks, sir.”

        “That’s not Order 66, you IDIOT! “

    1. Do you mean kidnap him and imprison him in The Village, or send a smoking hot blonde cylon to seduce him?

  15. And people everywhere are arguing that we need to cede more power to the government because you and I can’t be trusted. This week it’s guns. Next week it will be something else. More regulation, more laws, more control. I don’t get it.

  16. Same thing has happened to us, we were told by a city inspector that the real reason we were given citations is because we drove down the road and one of the people that just moved onto the street did not like us to drive down his street, in years past when we were fined in court they told us we had x number of dollars on credit cards and if we didnt max out all of our credit cards we would be held in contempt and would go to jail, we were here way before the city was we have been on this site since the mid 50’s, thsts 1950, the city annexed us in 1982 or 1983, we had a gane farm on our 3 1/2 acres of land at that time, about 150 pigs and about 1500 ring neck pheasants, 250 chuckers, chickens etc, grandfathers rights should apply, they wouldnt even have the conversation with us,,, the city had contractors working on the street by our house, the contractor hired by the city of phoenix, hauled in about 100 dump truck loads of dirt onto our property, the contractor was not charged, we were not paid ir did we pay for this dirt, however the contractor was paid to haul it from the city project, we wanted it to raise our property, after it was hauled in the city showed up and issued citations, we were back in court, fined and the was able to flaten our property, you can fight city hall all you want, you just cant win, one traffic stop from incarceration, one paycheck away from being homeless,

    1. 150 pigs and 1500 pheasants on 3.5 acres sounds like a nightmare. I’d hate to be your neighbor.

  17. In the city codes it states that it is unlawful to have organic or inorganic material on your property, explain that one, isnt that in its self, show a goverment that has run a muk and is now communistic in nature,

  18. Read city of phx code title 39 -7 neighborhood preservation codes 39 – 7

  19. How, exactly, do you raise horses on a half acre? I ask as someone who raises horses on 90 acres. I have seen people try to do that sort of crap and it’s generally extremely cruel to the horses. Half acre is suburban lot sized. After you have subtracted land for house, vehicles, etc., that’s barely enough room for a horse to move.

    1. Indeed. A half acre is only about 22,000 square feet, or roughly 110 x 200 feet. No way is that big enough to board a horse, let alone multiple horses.

      1. When you start to look at numbers like that, it makes me wonder if the city isn’t entirely justified. I’m surprised there are not animal welfare violations, too. The pdf at the “emails” link references pictures. It would be nice to see some pictures of this property.

        This article makes it seem as if Johnson is the only one complaining, but the letter from the city states: “Answer: Neighbors (and others) typically complain first to NSD. Although complaints can be made anonymously, in Mr. Stapleton’s case several complainants went on the record by name. At least two complainants chose to remain anonymous. The details (and names) are in the NSD records.”

        Regarding the “fence,” ” The fence was a portable corral for horses he kept in the front yard. The current Google photo of the property shows the corral still in place. Berkana neither proposed nor installed anything similar (much less “grazed” horses in its front yard).”

        That sounds like stock panels, not a permanent fence. Also, Phoenix is arid enough and the space small enough, I’m pretty sure those horses are just standing around on dirt, not “grazing.”

        1. Yep. It’s stock panels.

          You can see in this pdf.

          Interestingly, there’s not a single photo that gives a good view of the property and what the situation on the property really is. There are just a few tight shots that conceal more than they reveal. The property is tiny and wholly insufficient for keeping one horse, no less multiple horses.

          I like how Stapleton says he went there for the “solitude,” but this wasn’t exactly some remote little piece of desert that got gradually overtaken by city. When he bought the property it was adjacent to a nursing home and there were other houses. If you want solitude, buying a home that butts up against an existing commercial property seems like a poor choice.

  20. An excellent article! Reminds me of a libertarian magazine published back in the eighties. Very good writing and a germane and relevant choice of topics. What’s the catch?

  21. Great and very informative article.

    http://microsoftsupport123.edu…..y-support/

  22. Domino Online 2018
    Agen Poker 2018

    “You look great!” “Wow, you’re beautiful.” “Gorgeous, as always.” There are no other comments. I don’t care if they look like they haven’t slept in a week and there’s an entire plate of spinach stuck in their teeth ? don’t risk it.

  23. Veteran Bucks the Former Mayor of Phoenix, City Makes Him Pay for More Than a Decade – Hit & Run : Reason.comis the best post byimo for pcVeteran Bucks the Former Mayor of Phoenix, City Makes Him Pay for More Than a Decade – Hit & Run : Reason.comis the best post by imo appVeteran Bucks the Former Mayor of Phoenix, City Makes Him Pay for More Than a Decade – Hit & Run : Reason.comis the best post by imo appVeteran Bucks the Former Mayor of Phoenix, City Makes Him Pay for More Than a Decade – Hit & Run : Reason.comis the best post by snaptube for pcVeteran Bucks the Former Mayor of Phoenix, City Makes Him Pay for More Than a Decade – Hit & Run : Reason.comis the best post by snaptube app

  24. Judi Bandar Poker |
    BandarQ Online |
    you have an interesting experience to read in others, and I think I’m happy to find an interesting experience from you thanks to your information

  25. I am very happy with your interesting site. I hope you continue to work on this site because this site can help many people
    Cheat BandarQ |
    Cheat Sakong |

  26. I like how Stapleton says he went there for the “solitude,” but this wasn’t exactly some remote little piece of desert that got gradually overtaken by city. When he bought the property it was adjacent to a nursing home and there were other houses.

    CHEAT POKER ONLINE

  27. indeed a site that really makes a lot of people like it because your opinion is very different as stated here is a work that is indeed worthy and worthy of example
    Cheat BandarQ

    DominoQQ

  28. keep on creating a site that gives good benefits like this site, I really like and love your site, thank you for this great site and keep working

    Prediksi Sakti
    Prediksi Bola Parlay

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.