West St. Paul officials want the courts to boot a family from their house for prompting dozens of public nuisance or drug-related incidents in a year, which the homeowner attributes to racism and police harassment.
The situation presents a tug-of-war between the rights of homeowners and the city, whose officials say they’re trying to defend a neighborhood under siege.
“I believe that there’s violence in the community and it centers around that address,” said Bud Shaver, West St. Paul police chief. “I’ve got to do something.”
In February, the City Council gave the go-ahead to seek a court order to bar Leeann Broadbent, 43, and her family from the stucco-and-stone rambler at 210 Logan Av. W. The city says that since the family moved in five years ago, the house has become a nuisance, racking up 157 police calls involving loose dogs, junk cars, guns, parking violations and marijuana possession. Things got so bad that police mounted surveillance equipment on nearby poles.
On March 1, the city sent the family a letter giving them a month to resolve those problems or it would go to court to have them banned from their house for a year. The city’s letter lists 45 specific allegations in the past year.
Of those, 18 involved Facebook Live videos that purportedly show people in the home smoking pot, sometimes with children present. None resulted in criminal charges. Eleven complaints involved loose or barking dogs. Other complaints involved problems with visitors leaving the house, shots fired outside by an unknown party, and shots fired into the home, wounding one of Broadbent’s sons.
Broadbent said her neighbors’ calls were mostly about dogs and cars parked on the street when family members and their friends visited.
“Since I’ve been here, all they’ve done is harass me,” said Broadbent, who is white with biracial children. “If you are a multi-color family, don’t move to West St. Paul.”
Shaver said his department was simply “responding to complaints — we don’t respond to race.”
City officials say that barring homeowners from their property is used only when there’s no alternative. West St. Paul did it before in 2006, only to have Minnesota’s highest court overturn the action in 2009.
Nuisance statutes must be used strategically and with neighborhood support, said Susan Gaertner, a former Ramsey County attorney.
“Often government officials are accused of racism, picking on poor people [or] using government resources to go after unfortunate people who have difficult life circumstances,” Gaertner said. “Fundamentally, it can be criticized as interfering with people’s right to property.”
Broadbent has four children, five stepchildren and an extended family that stops by. Shaver said it’s her children and their friends, who are in their early to mid-20s, who cause trouble.
Yet while police have been called repeatedly, the calls have resulted in few convictions, mostly for minor offenses. Broadbent herself was charged four times last year with creating a public nuisance, but those charges were dismissed. She pleaded guilty to having animals running at large. Her dogs have gotten out, she said, but they’ve never bitten anyone.
Her son Daiezon Broadbent, 25, has been convicted of abandoning several cars and having a small amount of marijuana. One daughter was convicted of having an unlicensed dog and letting dogs loose, while another was convicted of interfering with a police officer.
Another son, Dexter Jefferson Jr., 24, has been convicted of theft, burglary and other property crimes. But Broadbent said he wasn’t living at the house at the time.
Asked to cite serious crimes linked to the house, Chief Shaver noted a court-authorized search in December 2015. Police records refer to the seizure of “a large amount of marijuana” and “a glass pipe used for smoking crack.” Yet no drug charges were filed.
Two of the Broadbents met with tragedy in criminal incidents. Lavauntai Broadbent, 16, was killed in 2015 after he tried to rob a man at gunpoint in a St. Paul park. The victim, who had a gun permit, shot the boy.
In February 2016, Ramsey County charged Daiezon Broadbent with two counts of aiding an offender after a man was shot in the head during a St. Paul drug deal. Broadbent allegedly drove a getaway car and withheld information from police. He has a court date this month.
On Jan. 6, Shaver said, someone fired a shot through into the family’s home, wounding Daiezon Broadbent in the side. A week later, police responded to a report of shots fired outside the home.
Leeann Broadbent wonders why those incidents count against her. “[My son] gets shot, and suddenly my neighbors are the victims?” she remarked.
Shaver said the neighbors are frightened. Several neighbors declined to comment, citing safety concerns.
The injunction process
City Attorney Kori Land said the police citations for small infractions have failed to stop the problems, so the city has resorted to other measures, including mounting video cameras outside the home.
On March 1, the city notified the Broadbents that they have 30 days to halt the problems or to create an “abatement plan.” Failing that, a judge could bar the family from the house for up to a year.
The city would only have to prove two “behavioral incidents” constituting a public nuisance in the preceding year. Minnesota courts have found leaking sewage, icy sidewalks, a slaughterhouse and the operation of steam shovels to be public nuisances, the League of Minnesota Cities says.
In 2008-2009, Brooklyn Park and Hennepin County succeeded in removing a homeowner after a score of loud parties and assaults.
“I think if you talked to the neighbors, they would agree it solved the problem,” said Brooklyn Park Deputy Chief Todd Milburn. “They were in absolute turmoil.”
West St. Paul got an order barring Alice Krengel from her home in 2006, citing dozens of police reports about drunk people arguing outside, along with a shouting match and an assault during her abatement period.
The Minnesota Supreme Court found that the city failed to prove its case because 15 months had passed with no nuisance activity at her home.
Krengel, who died last year, lost her pets and slept at a homeless shelter while barred from her house. She said in a YouTube video that her victory meant cities “can’t just arbitrarily kick someone out like they did me.”
Leeann Broadbent said she’s getting a lawyer and plans to fight the city.
City officials acknowledge the case against her presents challenges. Wary neighbors may not want to testify, and the Broadbents were themselves victims in the recent shooting, they said. Land said the loose-dog complaints might prove key.
Shaver said he wishes the family luck, but he’s at his wit’s end. “If they can’t behave,” the chief said, “get out of the community.”