An appeal of a decision declaring several automobiles as junk and nuisance vehicles veered wildly off course Tuesday night after a property owner accused Laurinburg’s planning director of stealing $14,000 from under the front seat of one of the vehicles in question.
Harold Mercer began his appeal before the Laurinburg City Council by claiming that city Planning Director Brandi Deese repeatedly harassed his seriously ill wife.
“(Deese) came to the house with a search warrant knowing that I would not be there. My wife could not come to the door … Thinking it was an emergency she drug herself to the door where (Deese) served a warrant.”
Upon returning to his home that day, Mercer said that he found his wife “laying on the floor having a seizure.”
“It wasn’t a heart attack, thank God,” Mercer said.
According to Mercer, the pattern of harassment by Deese continued over a period of months.
Mercer also alleged that Deese took money from one of the vehicles after he said she assessed the car.
Mercer said that the city police refused to pursue an investigation of the alleged theft.
After making the allegations, Mercer was instructed by Laurinburg Mayor Tommy Parker to discuss the appeal of whether the vehicles were indeed junk and/or nuisances.
“I respectfully ask you to submit your case,” Parker said.
After being told again by Parker to avoid being disrespectful and remain on topic, Mercer responded by asking “Would you be respectful if someone came into your yard, broke into your vehicle and stole $14,000?”
Before walking out of the hearing without presenting any evidence Mercer had a message for council.
“We’ll see you in court.”
The council voted 4-1 to deny the appeal, allowing city enforcement to continue.
Dissenting was Councilman Curtis Leak, who defended his vote by saying that he thought the vehicles would contribute to the city’s tax base.
After the meeting, Deese brushed off Mercer’s allegations, denying them in their entirety.
Deese said that she “laughed” after learning of Mercer’s allegations that she stole money from his car back in June. According to Deese, the city police did investigate the alleged theft.
Deese said authorities had planned to administer polygraph tests but Mercer told to the police that he found the missing money.
Mercer has been the subject of neighborhood complaints about his vehicles since 2005, Deese said. The property in question is at 706 West Boulevard.
“There have been multiple complaints,” Deese said.
Nearly all nuisance and junk vehicle cases are initiated by resident complaints.
“We don’t have the resources, unfortunately, to pursue cleaning up those vehicles on our own,” Deese said. “But the program has absolutely helped clean up the city.”
Deese said there were six junk or nuisance vehicles on Mercer’s property.
According to city statute, to be a junk vehicle an automobile must have no current license plate and meet one of the following requirements:
-To be dismantled/wrecked
-Be more than five years old or valued at less than $500.
To qualify as a nuisance vehicle, an automobile must threaten to serve as a breeding ground for pests, or be found to support weeds or obnoxious vegetation, among other unsightly factors.