Capital Clicks

‘Retaliation’ over dog poop complaint sparks $1 million claim against city

By: - July 8, 2022 2:15 pm

A West Liberty man's $1 million lawsuit against the city stems from alleged retaliation for his complaints about a neighbor's loud parties and dog poop in his yard. (Photo by krisanapong detraphiphat/Getty Images)

A West Liberty man is suing the city for more than $1 million over alleged civil rights violations triggered by his complaints about a neighbor’s “dog poop” and late-night parties.

According to the lawsuit filed by Fay Joseph Olsen, the city retaliated against him in 2020 for complaints he made about a City Hall employee who was also his neighbor.

Olsen, who is not represented by legal counsel in the case, says his complaints pertained to “excessive amounts of dog poop not being picked up from my neighbor’s dog in their yard, and also their dog’s poop in our yard, and late-night parties of the same City Hall worker including loud music and profanity being screamed up until 2 a.m. The parties also included men peeing towards my yard – exposing themselves to my children in doing so.”

Olsen claims police officers responded to his complaints “and actually threw the law and code out of their car windows when it was given to them, littering.”

Weeks after he made his complaints, in July 2020, the city issued 17 citations against Olsen, most of which were tied to building-code issues, an alleged accumulation of trash on Olsen’s property and a claim that he was operating a business out of his home by buying and selling salvage material.

Criminal court records show 13 of the citations were later dismissed at the request of the city attorney. Four citations proceeded to court, and after a hearing on the matter, a magistrate dismissed all four citations.

The magistrate ruled the buildings on Olsen’s property were “well-built, attractive and quite frankly constitute a nice (but busy) backyard,” adding that there was “no significant evidence” of garbage on the property and there was no violation of city ordinances with regard to operating a business.

In dismissing the city’s citations, Magistrate John Wunder also noted that he did not consider evidence that the city’s actions were motivated by Olsen’s complaints of a City Hall worker’s dog defecating in his yard.

In his newly filed federal lawsuit, Olsen says he and his “legal team” – his schoolteacher wife and his mother – had to spend hundreds of hours studying the law in their successful effort to have all 17 citations dismissed.

He is seeking $216,149 in compensatory damages and $864,599 in punitive damages. The city has yet to file a response to the lawsuit, and its legal representatives could not be reached for comment Friday.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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