residents could be forcibly evicted, arrested

April 23 – Residents who choose to resist the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority’s legal right to use eminent domain will be evicted and possibly arrested as trespassers, a legal expert has said.

The OTA announced in February that it would build two new toll roads in Norman as part of a $5 billion expansion of the statewide toll road system. A toll road along Indian Hills Road would connect Norman, Moore and Oklahoma City, while a second would stretch from Interstate 40 south east of Norman, west of Lake Thunderbird in the basin. pouring down to Purcell.

Some are considering resisting offers from the OTA to negotiate the sale of their property at fair market value and refusing to cooperate if the OTA is awarded the land after eminent legal proceedings.

OTA spokesman James Poling said in an email to The Transcript that the agency is working diligently to negotiate fairly with landowners and avoid lawsuits.

City officials and those who might be affected by the proposed routes have resisted the OTA due to concerns about water pollution and the threat to wildlife, as well as displacement.

Ward 5 Councilman Rarchar Tortorello, who represents most of the places where expansions are planned in Norman, said residents were considering using force to stay in their homes.

“Several residents have expressed a willingness to use their Second Amendment rights to protect their homes, which should be of concern to both the City of Norman and law enforcement,” he said. “We have to consider what happens when the plurality of their neighbors are equally supportive – has OTA thought about what will happen next?”

A man who attended the Tuesday public meeting the OTA held at the Central Library asked if the agency would arrest anyone who refused to turn over their property.

“I want to know if we refuse eminent domain and stay united, will they force bulldozers and law enforcement to enter our properties and forcefully evict us from our properties and incarcerate us?” asked the man at the back of the room. He declined to give his name to The Transcript.

Dave Moore, who resisted OTA plans to build a Normandy toll road in 1999 and joined the fight, told The Transcript last month that locals were considering chaining themselves to trees, bulldozers or simply to refuse to leave their properties.

“I had to think about it,” he said in an interview last month. “I think I would [do it]and I know there are people who would too.”

Trae Gray, founding partner of Landowner Law, said that could mean contempt of court and, if necessary, arrest if the OTA chooses to pursue the matter in court.

Once the court has ruled that ownership has been awarded to the OTA, and once the money has been deposited with the court in its name, the OTA is the title holder – the legal owner – of the property, he said.

“At that point, the landowner no longer owns that property. That property belongs to the convict,” Gray said. “Title vests in the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. The landowner can still go through the court process and have the amount of just compensation they are entitled to determined, and then that amount is legally challenged, but the title is no longer in dispute.. This is their (OTA) land.

Prior to an eviction order, if a property owner does not cooperate with the court’s decision, the OTA could seek an injunction restraining the person “from interfering with their (OTA) property rights,” Gray said.

If the injunction is not complied with, the resident will likely be found in contempt of court.

“As soon as the OTA says they own this property and they’re not leaving, it [person] is an intrusion,” Gray said. “They would have the right if someone was interfering with their right to property to file an injunction, and they would ask for a break and enter and an inmate to have that person evicted. The Tollway Authority won’t (remove) – the Sheriff’s Department will.

“If the person is chained to the tree and refuses to come off the tree, they will probably handcuff them and take them to jail. They will talk to the judge until they say they won’t go back and chain himself to the tree.

Gray clarified that eviction is a legal process.

“OTA won’t remove them, OTA doesn’t have the authority to remove them,” Gray said. “A person would be much better off seeking redress through the court system.”

The OTA would not say, if faced with a person who refuses to leave a property awarded to him, if he would ask for a forced eviction with arrest in court.

“OTA is not a law enforcement agency,” Poling said in his email to The Transcript. “He is not aware of the arrest of any landowner refusing to vacate land acquired by the OTA, nor does the agency expect to ever need him.”

He provided a document of which details the process of acquiring property through negotiation and eminent domain. It does not contain any language related to evictions.

“The acquisition of private property for transit projects is the most serious process undertaken by the transit agency,” Poling’s email read. “Oklahoma Turnpike Authority negotiates in good faith and works diligently with each property owner to provide them with the fair market value of the property needed for a project and reach an agreement that avoids having to go to court. is necessary to resolve differences of opinion on the value of goods”.

Tortorello said he hopes residents get answers soon about compensation for their properties.

“The legal confusion over whether the constitutional line can be drawn between the practice of eminent domain that has a ‘public interest’ reflects the ambiguity of the law for those who must enforce it against taxpayers and traumatized citizens. by forced resettlement by the same agencies that their taxes go to support.Private property rights have always been sacrosanct in Oklahoma, and this exploitation of those unable to properly defend themselves financially or politically is the real injustice The OTA needs to quickly articulate how it plans to compensate owners who might resist proposals that don’t improve their lives.

Mindy Wood covers news from City Hall and notable court cases for The Transcript. Contact her at [email protected] or 405-416-4420.