St. George faces scrutiny over code enforcement practices

Posted at 10:15 PM, Nov 08, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-09 00:15:23-05

ST. GEORGE - A St. George attorney says the way city code enforcement officers investigate complaints is illegal, and now the Washington County Attorney’s Office is investigating.

“The constitutional abuses are just surreal,” Aaron Prisbrey said.

Prisbrey filed the lawsuit against the city, alleging the code enforcement ordinances are in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unlawful search and seizure.

“We should all abide by the same set of rules,” Prisbrey said. “If I come into your back yard, for whatever purpose, as soon as I go past that fence, I’ve committed a criminal trespass.”

In a letter to St. George Police Chief Marlon Stratton, Prisbrey asked him to investigate, and alleged that mayor Dan McArthur knew about the unlawful searches and did nothing.

“They believe they have the authority to go on somebody’s property without a warrant, unless somebody tells them to get off,” Prisbrey said.

City spokesperson Marc Mortensen said Friday they had not received a copy of the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on specific incidents, but he did defend the city’s code enforcement practices.

“The City of St. George is very confident that we are following the law,” Mortensen said. “We’re well within our legal bounds to enforce the code on the books.”

Mortensen said code enforcement is a vital part of maintaining law in the city. He said the majority of complaints are resolved quickly and without a fine, and because the system is complaint driven, officers are only looking at someone’s property when called to do so.

There are three separate cases at play: an original class-action lawsuit regarding a St. George resident who says officers entered his property during a search, which is still pending in federal court; the Washington County Attorney’s investigation, which could end in federal charges being filed; and the latest lawsuit against the city.

While the current lawsuit only addresses illegal searches, Prisbrey said the entire code enforcement process, including the court, is illegal and contrary to the 14th Amendment, which protects against unlawful due process. He said he plans to amend the complaint to include anyone who has ever been fined, which could exceed 15,000 people.