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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Former residents allege Granite City issued citations for keeping chickens on property, which ‘hold profound religious significance’

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | May 23, 2017

A family who formerly had property in Granite City are suing the city and several officials for allegedly harassing them for keeping chickens on their property in conjunction with their religious beliefs.

Ceara Woody, Michael Woody and Tempest Hornsley filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois on May 19 against Granite City, Steve Willaredt, administrator of the Granite City building and zoning division; John Birdsong, David Henn, Rick Shelton, Ralph Walden, who were each employed by the Granite City building and zoning department, in their official and personal capacities; and Capt. Gagich, Lt. Werths, Pt. Mangiaracino, Pt. Donahey, Sergeant Wojitowicz, Pt. Hadley and Pt. Roberts in their official capacities with the police department.

The plaintiffs are represented in the case by Armbruster Dripps Winterscheidt & Blotevogel LLC in Maryville.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs allege they resided at 300 Dale in Granite City, which was owned by Ceara Woody until May 2016.

They claim that between October 2014 and July 2015, Michael Woody litigated ordinance violations with Granite City that were issued by Willaredt and the building and zoning defendants. The defendants allegedly told the plaintiffs that keeping chickens on the property in conjunction with their religious beliefs violated city ordinances.

The plaintiffs claim that until May 2016, the building and zoning defendants “engaged in a course of conduct designed to force plaintiffs to move out of Granite City,” by allegedly entering the property on several occasions without permission or a warrant and issuing dozens of citations that were eventually dismissed.

The suit states that the alleged trespasses occurred around the times Michael Woody filed appellate briefs in their litigation against the city for ordinance violations.

In one provided incident, Michael Woody filed a reply brief with the appellate court on May 22, 2015, and the Granite City fire department entered the property five days later to investigate a “fire pit.” Then on June 1, 2015, the plaintiffs’ chickens allegedly disappeared.

The plaintiffs claim the chickens “hold profound religious significance” to them.

The suit states that the plaintiffs were issued citations for various reasons, including log grass, an RV on the property, and bad tag ordinance violations.

The plaintiffs also allege the defendants searched their back yard and damaged their garden and allegedly broke into their RV to take photos, which were attached to the citation.

The plaintiffs allegedly called the police department after each incident, but no corrective action was taken, the suit states.

On Dec. 3, 2015, the Fifth District Appellate Court reversed a trial court order affirming an administrative decision fining Woody for keeping farm animals on the property and ordered a new administrative hearing.

Granite City made a settlement offer regarding the violation on Feb. 8, 2016, which expired on Feb. 23, 2016.

Michael Woody claims Walden appeared at the property on March 4, 2016. When Woody attempted to take a photo of Walden, he allegedly assaulted him, the suit states.

Within two months of the alleged assault, Horsley moved out of her parents house.

Michael and Ceara Woody also moved out of the home to a rental property.

Then in May 2016, Ceara Woody signed a quitclaim deed to her home to the bank holding the mortgage.

As a result, the plaintiffs allegedly suffered economic losses exceeding $80,000, damage to Ceara Woody’s credit, loss of thousands of dollars of improvements to the home and yard and sustained injuries to their physical and mental health.

The plaintiffs allege it was custom and policy of the building and zoning defendants to “harass residents it considered unsavory until they moved out of the city,” causing them to engage in “an ongoing pattern of harassment with the intention of forcing the plaintiffs to relocate.”

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois case number 3:17-cv-534

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U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois