Eudora Multiple Douglas County officials are accused of violating a man's constitutional rights, in a civil case that goes before a federal jury Wednesday in Topeka.
In the lawsuit, Michael Van Deelen alleges two Douglas County sheriff's deputies and two county tax appraisers violated his First Amendment rights by trying to threaten and intimidate him. The suit comes after a lengthy tangle with the county.
Douglas County Appraiser Marion Johnson, appraiser's office employee Steven Miles and sheriff's deputies Dale Flory and Kenneth Fangohr are listed as defendants in the suit. The board of county commissioners and Sheriff Ken McGovern were dropped from the lawsuit, which was initially filed in 2005.
Van Deelen, 58, claims the county officials violated his rights, by retaliating against him for his continuous attempts to appeal the county's property tax assessment of his Eudora home, 1025 Acorn Drive. After multiple appeals and a lawsuit, Van Deelen alleges that he was verbally intimidated, that an appraiser scowled and stared at him, and that a sheriff's deputy poked him and threatened to shoot him if he continued to file appeals, deterring him from pursuing additional appeals, an exercise protected by the United States Constitution, according to court documents.
Van Deelen repeatedly has represented himself in lawsuits across the country and is described by U.S. District Court Senior Judge Sam Crow in a court document as a "frequent filer."
He filed multiple lawsuits in Douglas County District Court during the 1990s against an umpire, parents and organizers of a baseball association. In 1993, he filed a suit against Massey, who at that time was a Eudora police officer, claiming Massey verbally abused him during a Eudora Little League game.
In 2003, he filed a lawsuit against the Lawrence school district, claiming his son was threatened by Lawrence High School cheerleaders and fans during a wrestling match.
More recently in 2007, he filed suit against a school district in New Mexico, where he was a teacher.
More than two years ago, Crow had dismissed the case that goes before a jury next week in Topeka, saying it wasn't a matter of public concern, court documents said.
But Van Deelen, who is not an attorney, won an appeal he filed with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
"One might well question the merits of Mr. Van Deelen's petitions or their significance, arising as they do from an ongoing and increasingly personal spat with county tax officials," said the appeals court in reversing the case on Sept. 10, 2007. "But a private citizen exercises a constitutionally protected First Amendment right any time he or she petitions the government for redress. : The First Amendment does not pick and choose its causes. The minor and questionable, along with the mighty and consequential, are all embraced."
The spat began in 1993, when Van Deelen sued the county and city of Eudora, after repeated issues with flooding at his home, which he purchased in 1991.
He complained that a nearby culvert contributed to the flooding. He was paid damages, the culvert was replaced with a bridge and Van Deelen dropped the lawsuit.
In 2000, Van Deelen thought the county overstated the assessed value of his home.
Things got nasty when he was unsuccessful in appealing the county's assessment during about eight administrative hearings over the next several years, court documents said.
During one of the hearings, Van Deelen allegedly made "accusatory" and "derogatory" comments toward Miles, court documents said, and that prompted the Douglas County appraiser's office to ask the sheriff's office to assign a deputy to be available outside the appraiser's office during their next meeting. Fangohr was assigned.
In February 2005, Van Deelen filed a federal civil lawsuit, alleging unconstitutional property valuations and perjury by Miles, court records said.
In March 2005, the county reduced the assessed value of Van Deelen's home by $5,000 and Van Deelen dismissed the lawsuit.
But later that month, Van Deelen pursued another tax appeal with the appraiser's office. Johnson requested a deputy - this time Flory - to sit inside during the meeting. Van Deelen alleged the deputy's attendance was intended to intimidate him, in retaliation for his lawsuits and appeals and to deter him from bringing future appeals, court records said.
Van Deelen, in the most recent lawsuit in the matter, claims Flory deliberately bumped him during the hearing, had his hand on his gun and made menacing looks.
He said the deputy's presence surprised and frightened him from pursuing future appeals.
Van Deelen is seeking $500,000 in damages.
Van Deelen and county officials had no comment Friday when contacted about the lawsuit.