Home of the Masters

No one is above the law -- not even public employees

We’re not sure how someone with the wherewithal to have video surveillance of her home can’t manage to get her grass cut.

But we’re glad Erica Masters of Martinez did have cameras keeping an eye on her home – otherwise the world might never have believed her tale.

And the world does, indeed, know about it.

Jimmy Vowell, a code compliance officer for Columbia County, was trying to serve notice to Masters July 2 that she needed to mow her overgrown yard. So far so good. Such neglect tends to depress home values and decrease the quality of life for neighbors. Fact is, codes aren’t enforced strictly enough in this country.

But Vowell entered the apparently unlocked home uninvited – and woke up a startled Masters.

Vowell initially lied to his supervisor about the incident, saying he didn’t enter the home uninvited. But the woman had video footage of him walking in.

After a brief investigation, the county fired Vowell, as it should have.

Let this serve as a citizens’ notice right back to code compliance officers and every other government official across the land: Our homes are still our castles. You have no right to come in uninvited, absent a search warrant or blazing emergency.

One hopes that lesson isn’t lost, even as widespread as the story has been. It got so much media attention that Masters was invited to be on NBC’s Today Show Thursday.

The debacle sure made Columbia County look bad. And it’s a good bet the burg won’t get much credit around the world for having done the right thing and firing the offending officer. Perhaps that’s karma: The county may have been foolish to hire him to begin with, after he’d earlier resigned from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Department for spiriting away an unclaimed and condemned laptop computer from the evidence room.

Yes, it was headed for the heap. But we can’t have law enforcement officers just divvying up unclaimed merchandise like so much booty, especially on a freelance basis. In most quarters, that’s still theft.

Another thing: When Masters called 9-1-1 to report a strange man in her house, the dispatcher declined to send a deputy because the man was a county employee.

Say what? In other words, there’s no way a county employee can be out of line enough to send a deputy? Are they such saints?

We’re told that’s county policy. Well, if so, that’s one condescending and dangerous policy. They’re just lucky Vowell was as harmless as he was clueless. But luck is a poor substitute for sound thinking. We urge Columbia County to order dispatchers to send a deputy if a citizen believes someone is in the process of breaking a law – even if it’s a county employee.

No one is above the law or suspicion.

We also hope that the publi-city surrounding this case will inspire governments around the country to remind their charges that our homes are still our castles, and we, like Erica, are masters of them.

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