My guest today is journalist and blogger Roger Shuler, formerly based in Alabama. Welcome back to OpEdNews, Roger.
JB: You've had a pretty eventful life of late. Would you care to catch us up on what's been happening?
RS: Your readers probably remember that I was incarcerated in Alabama for five months (October 2013 to March 2014)--for daring to practice journalism--and my wife, Carol, and I lost our house in Birmingham to a foreclosure that I now am convinced was unlawful. After all that trauma in the South, we fled to Springfield, Missouri, where I grew up and still have family. But it seems the conservative forces that want to shut down my reporting on the blog Legal Schnauzer have followed us, perhaps through my brother David, who happens to be a right-leaning lawyer in Springfield. On Sept. 9, we were unlawfully evicted from our apartment in Springfield. Sheriff deputies (about seven or eight of them) burst through the door, trained at least one assault rifle and multiple handguns on us, handcuffed us both, and ultimately assaulted Carol, breaking her arm. A trauma surgeon used all sorts of screws and titanium plates to piece her arm back together. Her recovery seems to be going well, but she's a long way from "back to normal." In fact, we are concerned that her arm might never be the same.
JB: I'm really sorry to hear about the assault and Carol's resultant injuries. Is this the normal course of things for an eviction, Roger? It sounds more like you were on the Most Wanted List, based on the law officers' behavior. And why were you being evicted in the first place? I'd like some more details to sink my teeth into, please.
RS: I've never been involved in an eviction, Joan, so I don't know for sure about the normal course of these things. But I understand it's common for a deputy or two to be on hand and play a relatively passive role while the landlord's crew removes items from the property. In our case, I don't know why we were targeted for eviction. Our rent had been timely paid, and we had been model tenants. According to the lease, we were to go on a month-to-month basis after the first 13 months. That's what we thought would happen, but we had a notice to vacate taped to our door on July 2. When I called to see what was going on, the landlord's representative told me that we were being ousted under grounds that violated the lease. We fought the vacation notice in court, but as I've seen happen repeatedly with judges in Alabama, the Missouri judge seemed to pay little attention to the facts or law and ruled against us. Under Missouri law, there is a 10-day window where execution on an order (such as an eviction) cannot be carried out (levied is the term used in the law).
The eviction was scheduled for Sept. 9, which was inside the 10-day window, so it was unlawful on those grounds. On top of that, we filed a Notice of Appeal on Sept. 8, and by law, that puts a stay on the eviction. But the eviction happened anyway, and judging by the behavior of deputies (who included Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott), you would think we were running a high-level drug-smuggling operation. In the ensuing chaos, Carol and I were handcuffed, and a deputy pounced on her and slammed her to the ground, breaking her arm, when she tried to enter our apartment (as she had been given permission to do) to retrieve our cat's litter box.
JB: I believe the law officers accused Carol of attacking them. What really happened?
RS: Jim Arnott, the sheriff himself pointed at Carol, as her arm had just been broken in four or more places, and said, "She assaulted a police officer." I didn't know whether to guffaw or blow my stack. I saw the whole thing from the driver's seat of our car. I heard Carol say, "I'm just trying to get . . . ", and then I saw her being slammed to the ground, and one officer grabbed both of her arms and jerked them in an outward and upward motion, before putting handcuffs on her. Carol is 55 years old, very feminine (she's hardly Rhonda Rousey) [editor's note: RR is current UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion] and I've never seen her do anything remotely violent in the 28 years I've known her. We're about to "celebrate" our 26th wedding anniversary, with her arm in a compression garment. This is a blatant example of the kinds of lies law-enforcement officers will tell when they know they are in the wrong. We saw it on video with the Sandra Bland case in Texas. Facebook is filled with images and videos of cops abusing citizens--and in this case, officers had no lawful grounds to be on the property at all.
JB: It looks like your reputation as an intrepid truth-teller in Alabama has followed you across state lines, Roger. Do these recent events take the wind out of your sails in terms of future reportage?
RS: No, in fact, it makes me more determined than ever to continue reporting. We have to figure out a way to stay afloat financially, of course. And we need legal assistance to pursue some of the important claims we already have. But in terms of being intimidated, I'm not. As long as Carol and I are able, we are going to fight back.
JB: Wow. That's brave, some would say foolish. Kudos to you and Carol! How can people help?
RS: Well, the latest is that my two brothers--David, a lawyer, and Paul, a radiology tech at Mercy Hospital, both in Springfield, MO--have filed court documents to have Carol and me declared incapacitated and disabled, with a guardian or conservator appointed for us. I'm just beginning to learn the law on this, but it sounds like we could lose many of our rights--right to vote, right to take care of our own finances (such as they are), right to make our own medical decisions, even the right to bring a lawsuit.
I think that last one is the real reason this court case has been filed--someone wants to prevent a lawsuit because of Carol's injuries, theft of our property, etc. It also sounds like it could be a first step toward having us physically committed. I guess that's what we do now to journalists who report on uncomfortable truths--first jail, now this? I reported on this latest development at Legal Schnauzer in a post dated Oct. 7, 2015. It sounds wacky, I know, but it's the latest thing we are dealing with. As for ways to help, we could use financial support, for sure. Donations are the main way we have of keeping my reporting going, so any help is very much needed and would be greatly appreciated.