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Years of friction still breathes fresh flame for local man

By Justin Boron

Money and freedom are frivolous things when it comes to the protection of Donald Hutcherson's property rights.

The Forest Park citizen has led a 13-year crusade against the city, in which he has resisted its interference in his front yard at every path, resulting in jail time and costing him thousands of dollars in legal fees and fines.

Since 1998, he has been cited 11 times, according to court records. Citations dating back to 1991 could not be retrieved because they were too old, environmental court officials said.

Most recently, Hutcherson served two days of a six-month jail sentence before the judge rescinded the order Wednesday.

The six-month sentence stemmed from an August building ordinance violation that one influential community member has called "backwoods law."

On Aug. 6 Hutcherson was cited for three violations on his property, including an unapproved driveway, failure to remove a garbage can, and failure to get an inspection for the addition of shingles to his garage.

Municipal Court Judge Michael Martin found him guilty of the shingles violation, and initially imposed a suspended sentence of 10 days incarceration contingent on the payment of $135 fine.

But he added on six months because a prior court order from March stipulated that Hutcherson not violate any city ordinance for the duration of his suspended sentence.

The judge recanted after the president of the local NAACP n of which Hutcherson is a member n pressured the city for answers as to why garage shingles warranted six months of jail time.

"This is not justice, it's some kind of backwoods law," said Dexter Matthews, the president of Clayton County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"This is the kind of stuff that goes on in Clayton County, and the reason why I'll always have a job to do here," he said.

Hutcherson's attorney, Dorian Murry agreed, saying the scroll of violations in Forest Park's environmental court surpassed harassment.

"This is a situation where Hutcherson has been targeted," he said.

Forest Park's planning and zoning department has a room full of documents relating to Hutcherson and his battle against the city.

Photos and statements spread across the table paint a picture of an unrelenting citizen with "an anti-government disposition," said Steve Pearson, the director of planning and zoning.

A picture shows Hutcherson running for mayor in 1997 when he vowed to do away with the city's environmental court.

Building Inspector Mike Tuttle said the constant friction has made he and his staff weary of the residence on the south side of the city.

But they would not back down, Pearson said.

"It all boils down to care of the premises," he said, denying claims of harassment.

"Even if there is not a complaint, look at the yard, the city becomes the complainant," Pearson said, pointing to a photograph with miscellaneous construction materials and a covered car.

The saga of one man's emboldened stalemate with the city's environmental ordinances began in 1991, when Tuttle said he refused to let inspectors on the property.

The incident sparked a series of bitter clashes that Hutcherson said amounts to a vendetta against he and his neighbors.

On numerous occasions, Hutcherson claims that his complaints at City Council meetings were followed promptly with an ordinance citation.

One year ago, Hutcherson said he criticized the city publicly for failing to hire any minorities for jobs that paid more than $40,000.

The following day he said he received a backlash of ordinance violations.

Pearson said the city has not executed any citations that were unwarranted.

While Hutcherson's face in the city government may not live up to model citizen, in his neighborhood, he is valorized.

Friday, he turned wrenches to replace the starter in Margarita Watt's mini-van as he whipped out a litany of complaints about the city's environmental code.

"They have too high of standards," Hutcherson said.

Watt said she had been a victim of similar harassment by the city, having recently received a citation for $110.

Eleven other residences in the neighborhood have been cited recently for environmental ordinance violations, Tuttle said.

Although the city officials say they have given Hutcherson leeway, an end to the ongoing conflict may not come anytime soon.

Having beat six-month rap, Hutcherson said he felt victorious but didn't expect an armistice any time soon.

"I might sue the city," he said.