Beaufort, N.C.

December 1, 2020

TO THE EDITOR:

A long-time Beaufort resident, taxpayer, and law-abiding citizen owned a vintage 26-foot sailboat that had been anchored in Taylor Creek for several years. Taxes were paid on the boat every year, and the owner had used it occasionally for recreation. Over the course of many years, there had never been an issue with the boat’s anchorage from anyone, or for any reason.

On October 2, 2018 the citizen found a laminated notice zip-tied to his boat. It said “Derelict Vessel.” It should be noted that the citizen, for over a decade, had registered and paid annual taxes on his boat. After finding this notice he contacted various agencies, including the Beaufort Police Department, attempting to obtain further information and clarification. He was given no assistance or guidance, and yet the boat owner/citizen still complied with what he believed the notice was alluding to (it was signed only by a Beaufort police officer).

He, therefore, relocated his boat from Taylor Creek to Town Creek. The citizen/owner assumed the boat would then be safe, since he had complied with the notice within the 10 days referenced on the notice/placard, and the fact that Town Creek is a Federal Harbor of Safe Refuge.

Sometime after relocating his boat, the citizen found it was missing from Town Creek. It should be noted that the only notice he ever received was placed on his boat while anchored in Taylor Creek. In a state of confusion and shock, he considered that his boat may have been stolen. He immediately began physically searching for his boat and after further investigation found that the boat had actually been removed from Town Creek, a Federal Harbor of Safe Refuge, without notice and without his consent. A friend had suggested that he check the Town of Beaufort Facebook site, upon which, to the citizen’s surprise, there was a picture of his boat. However, now his boat was no longer floating in water. The photograph showed the boat resting on its side, in gravel, and severely damaged. Subsequent to the citizen finding his boat depicted on the Town of Beaufort’s Facebook site, he became aware that his boat had, in fact, been destroyed by TowBoatUS, Beaufort under contract with the Town of Beaufort.

So, with little or no obvious or even reasonable recourse, the citizen filed a small claims lawsuit to recover his property (boat), naming the town of Beaufort, its Mayor and TowBoatUS as defendants.

The citizen prepared for the small claims court hearing with help from an assistant, but with no legal help, since small claims court is supposed to be administered and carried out so that a citizen can bring a suit without needing an attorney, and thus can present the case himself or herself.

The date of the trial, the citizen and assistant were directed to the courtroom in the Beaufort Couthouse, where they waited on the case to be heard by the assigned magistrate (who identified herself as Holly Lawrence). The first case before the magistrate that afternoon included two gentlemen representing themselves in a dispute over a construction contract. The magistrate communicated with them in a friendly manner using lay, non-legal language. The magistrate made her decision and some $4,000 was awarded.

Once the magistrate called the citizen’s case, she asked everyone involved to identify themselves. They included, Lee Sykes, owner of TowBoatUS, Morehead City, his attorney Winslow Taylor, Troy Edwards, with Beaufort Police Department, Norwood Blanchard, an attorney brought in from Wilmington, representing the town, and Everett Newton, Mayor of Beaufort.

So, the citizen, representing himself, was facing not only the defendant, but also two attorneys, and a police captain while the mayor watched in silence. This was completely unjust. As the “trial” began, the citizen offered what the assistant believed to be a sound case, including facts and documents such as the boat was not abandoned, it was not a derelict vessel, it had been registered to the citizen, taxes had been paid, no notice had been offered to the citizen regarding the town’s intent to seize the boat, nor had anyone attempted at any time to contact the citizen to notify him the boat had been taken and was going to be destroyed.

The citizen also spoke to the rights afforded by The US Constitution, through the Fourth Amendment, that protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government as well as the Fifth Amendment, allowing for due process of law. Neither the defendants nor the magistrate offered a response to this statement.

The US Constitution, through the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government and also allows all citizens due process of law, except, obviously not all citizens who live in Beaufort, NC.

The citizen had also brought to trial documents with photographs of the boat in Taylor Creek on the website of Southern Living Magazine, under the heading “The South’s Best Town: Beaufort, NC” and a photograph of the boat in Our State Magazine under heading of “Snowy Shores”, featuring the plaintiff’s boat. Obviously, the national media considered the citizen’s boat photogenic enough to be featured in their articles and was specifically chosen as an appropriate visual representation of Beaufort. Its doubtful either publication felt the boat was “derelict” or “abandoned”. At this point in the trial, the magistrate refused to allow these photographs to be entered as evidence, even though the citizen had requested that these documents be entered. Additionally, the citizen read aloud a portion of the town of Beaufort’s “regulation” (96.04) that had been referred to on the notice/placard attached to his boat. This was also used as a primary defense by the town’s attorney, Blanchard, from Wilmington, wherein the town was required to adhere to its own regulation, which the town of Beaufort had failed to do for some reason unknown to the citizen and his assistant.

Clearly, it would have been very easy for the town of Beaufort to contact the citizen since the town had tax documents that identified the specific boat owner as well as through the vessel’s registration.

Yet, the town chose not to. Instead they seized the boat, destroyed it, and dumped it in a landfill somewhere. It should be noted that the boat had 2300 pounds of lead in its keel. The legal definition of theft is a crime in which a person intentionally takes personal property of another without permission or consent and with the intent to convert it to the taker's use (including potential sale).

The town of Beaufort had just received a $68,000 grant from NOAA to remove “abandoned and derelict vessels”, and TowBoatUS, Beaufort, a for-profit business, unquestionably didn’t take and destroy citizen’s boat for free. So, it’s not unwarranted to suggest that the Town of Beaufort “stole” the citizen’s boat. Again, the court ignored the Fifth Amendment which also allows for “just compensation” for property taken.

According to FishingWire, an internet website discussing Beaufort’s “removal of abandoned vessels” stated that “Removal of the debris, which included more than 43 illegal and abandoned moorings, 11 vessels and more than 62 tons of debris, took several weeks. Added Sykes, “We were all saddened by the debris. Once one or two wrecks were dumped, others followed. A handful were from Hurricane Florence. Transient vessels were having difficulty anchoring and often struck unmarked submerged objects. With downtown just on the other side of the channel, it was an eyesore to everyone.” The TowBoatUS Beaufort crew hauled all of the debris ashore where the wrecks were scoured for recyclables and hazardous materials, then sent to landfills”. Wonder what happened to anything of value found on those 11 vessels? Furthermore, how many of those 11 boat owners know the whereabouts of their property? But I digress.

During the trial, Blanchard, the attorney representing the town of Beaufort, was openly aggressive towards the citizen in his verbal arguments. This was not a felony jury trial; it was small claims court. Yet, he fell silent when the citizen stated that his boat was not abandoned nor derelict, as well as, when he reiterated that the town of Beaufort had failed to follow its own regulation. Instead, Blanchard then cited several unfamiliar legal terminologies regarding “town immunity”, that neither the citizen nor the assistant recognized.

The magistrate then brought the trial to an end stating something about, “failure to waive immunity”, and added that the citizen had not proven his case. She then summarily dismissed the plaintiff’s case.

This story/incident is being sent to the Editor of The Carteret News Times for several concerning reasons. Firstly, the town of Beaufort obviously “stacked the deck” against the plaintiff (citizen) by hiring an attorney from Wilmington to argue this case. According to his firm’s website, Blanchard has expertise in defending municipalities. TowBoatUS also had paid legal representation. It is not at all clear or rational why the Town of Beaufort felt it necessary to pay an attorney from Wilmington to argue this case, when it has its own attorneys. There should be little doubt that this “hired gun” cost the local taxpayers a sizeable sum of money. The plaintiff and his assistant were perplexed and dismayed that an ordinary citizen should have to argue a case in small claims court against two well-paid attorneys. The hearing seemed very irregular, biased and frankly, unjust.

Secondly, this episode/case should be a cautionary tale for anyone in Carteret County considering filing a suit in small claims court, especially if the defendants include the Town of Beaufort and a large corporation (TowBoatUS). If a citizen has to argue his or her case against well-paid, qualified and licensed attorneys, then the whole notion and validity of small claims court is not only questionable, but appears to be a complete farce.

At least in this instance, in Carteret County, small claims court failed to provide an impartial and unbiased venue whereby a citizen may seek some manner of justice without having to hire an attorney, which many citizens simply cannot afford.

Finally, this entire incident, at least on its surface (prima facie as attorneys say), seems just another, unethical, oppressive and coercive tactic that the Town of Beaufort and its leadership continue to employ with little or no oversight by the town’s citizens. It is actually reasonable to expect a town or city to maintain legal jurisdiction over its boundaries.

However, allowing a municipality to assert free rein over its citizens with unrestrained powers, to carry out actions that are abusive, that disregard a citizen’s rights given under the US Constitution, and even its own town laws and regulations, is paramount to tyranny. Is this really what the “Coolest Small Town in America” is about? Maybe the notion of “Coolest” needs to be revised to mean “Oppressive”, at least when referring to Beaufort, NC and its leadership.

GRAY HATCHER

(53) comments

Sleepwalker

There’s got to be more to this story....

David Collins

By going to small claims court , does that prevent one from going to civil/criminal court next ? Did the citizen sign that right away ?

Fighting city hall has never been easy nor will it be . This immunity thing can be checked out , perhaps the UNC Government folks can help . I know it can be done because of all the huge cash awards municipalities have been paying out recently for police brutality cases . Yeah , a lawyer experienced in such matters and not from these parts will be necessary . One that will be with you all the way , as the catch phrase claims . The folks at UNC might be able to provide guidance there as well . The citizen will have to build an army and that threat often brings on settlements . Settlements with non disclosure contracts are common .

JohnnyR

I think there's more to this story too. So I'm assuming the "citizen" does not live in Carteret county, but leaves their boat anchored up here? He buzzes down for a little outing and finds out his boat has been dumped in a landfill after receiving former summons? I read that small claim courts only handle disputes for $10,000 or less, just how big a boat was this? Maybe instead of leaving a boat unattended for a long amount of time, the "Citizen" should have pulled his boat up like the rest of us do when we don't use it? Sounds like a true dingbatter to me.

David Collins

Come on JohnnyR , you know no one would do that . It plainly said long term resident , taxpayer and proud owner of a 26ft sailboat . A vintage 26 ft sailboat at that . Resident could mean that the citizen lived on said boat or under a cardboard box behind Jack’s . Being a cool coastal town anything is possible . Cool is cool . The careful wording aroused my suspicion but being the sunny side up type of guy I am , I gave said citizen the benefit of the doubt .

A court records search should shed more light on this obvious travesty . You never know , this citizen might end up being Hemingway or even a guy called Buffet . Am quite sure the saga will continue . Same Bat time , same Bat channel .

David Collins

By the way , the boat’s lead keel should bring in about $2300.00 plus or minus .

Beacon

It is called government over- reach. Kind of like the Bft checkpoint set up earlier this yr. Get use to it. More is coming.

ilovecarteret

Face it, your boat is ugly in the eyes of the government . It had to go. Don't want to tarnish the idyllic image that the privileged have of themselves.

How else are you going to sell property in the magic kingdom?

Big Fat Drunk Republican

Let’s see a picture of the boat.

mpjeep

Good point. I'd like to see a picture as well.

David Collins

A picture would end speculation , if it is a picture just before demolition . Not a stock advert from a brochure or when brand new . Something with detail that showed just how well it had weathered time and tide . The sailboat in the movie Captain Ron comes to mind . Was it a true vintage boat kept in Bristol condition or one of Beaufort’s rambling wrecks that even a seagull would be at loath to land on . Yes , that would be nice .

David Collins

And the picture is where , or is this whole post a hoax ?

Random dude

On page 109, of the December 2010 issue of Our State magazine is a picture of said boat, it was a phillip Rhodes design, built by O'Day in 1967, it was only made for 4 years, 65 to 68, O'Day Outlaw, and no, the owner is from here, east carteret class of 91 , if u r familiar with front street, it was the little green boat at the end of Hill street and no, the owner could see the boat in Taylor creek if they walked 5min from their home....

CARTERETISCORRUPT

I have experience in this general arena.

1. It surprises me not that Newton remained silent. He has always been a sideliner in confrontations. I have known him since kindergarten, and he is quite averse to anything adversarial. He will run every time.

.....

3. It was quite inappropriate for the citizen to have to face a battery of lawyers in small claims court.

4. Holly Lawrence, as with the other magistrates, are very poorly trained. The magistrate system is antiquated and should be repealed.

5. Immunity was improperly applied in this case. The question at hand was how the town applied the law, or discharged its duty. The town does not enjoy immunity. IT stops at the state level. IF this absurdity was allowed, then there would be no protection from atrocities perpetrated on the citizens.

6. The owner should carefully research the rules of evidence, court procedure, the law applicable, and any case law that would apply. Know how to do motions, subpoena, and production of documents. (Subpoenas can be signed by clerk of courts) for example. Then, file in superior court. What was done to the citizen here is absolute insanity. As a last resort, it can be removed to federal court on any question of violation of federal law, as in Fourth Amendment violations. A few thoughts.

(Edited by staff.)

mpjeep

Agree, corrupt.

noitall

Beaufort is not the best anchorage. Swift currents, the shore side public restrooms are the worst along the entire ICW, exposure to weather, and an now a government that seizes property because it can. In days past this anchorage was patrolled with vigor by the USCG searching because it was an easy place to search, I have spent too much time in small claims actions and my record is up there with Perry Mason's. Small court decisions can be appealed to Superior Court. but at what point does cost over run justice?

CARTERETISCORRUPT

At one time I nearly bought a 300 ft. cold war era submarine, to moor in Tailors Creek as a tourist attraction and eatery. This sort of thing would not have gone well for Beaufort.

mpjeep

A sub would have been cool!

CARTERETISCORRUPT

I have been warning the citizens reading this forum, for years about the dangers of the local courts. Sadly, there will continue to be atrocities done to citizens. Remember Newton in the next mayoral election. Better yet, there should be a "None of the above" vote on the ballot, so that we don't get stuck with only one candidate. If the "None of the above" gets more votes, there will be no mayor. We really don't need one, as we don't have one now.

David Collins

One thing about corrupt , he takes NO Prisoners . I love it !

mpjeep

I always Enjoy reading Corrupt's post. He is certainly a straight shooter. No pun intended.[smile]

JusticeForAll

I suggest you do some research.

David Collins

Pondering that submarine ‘ eatery . Did it come with functional torpedo tubes and a deck gun . If so , possibilities are endless .

noitall

One .....

This site is not a chat room. Comments that do not pertain to the article will no longer be approved.   -Web Editor

(Edited by staff.)

JusticeForAll

There were several incidents years ago in Taylor's creek where some boats were damaged by graffiti and a few plugs went missing on some. Even lights where shot out, so to speak. This was justified by the reasoning that these boaters were not locals and had no business mooring in Taylor's creek. Some thought some of these boats obstructed the view of those who resided on Front Street. So whether it is done by the government or by self appointed individuals to carry out, the result is the same. The victims are out of luck.

JusticeForAll

There are those who subvert the intent of laws all day long. You can not legislate honor/integrity from individuals. And usually, those making the

derogatory comments don't come close to living up to the standards they expect from others.

mpjeep

Yep, most of those that subvert the intent of laws are called lawyers and judges.

JusticeForAll

Agree mpjeep. But there are individuals among us.

David Collins

What did Shakespeare reputedly say , way back ...... kill all the lawyers . Still true now ?

(Edited by staff.)

CARTERETISCORRUPT

Shakespeare had it right. Even today. One can hope.

JohnnyR

CIC, I would take one of your subs over 25 more blow-boaters anchored up here.

David Collins

OK , now that we all have chimed in , where is this thing going ? Legal action or sour grapes ? Enquiring minds wish to know .

Boat bums dumping their boats at public anchorages is not a new issue and the removal process is convoluted , overlapping jurisdictions , and expensive . New Bern made the news this morning with their rambling wreck problems . The owners can be located by back tracking and charged / fined to cover any and all expenses . Always someone that knows who the owner is , just need to do a bit of sleuthing . Guess it is not a big enough priority .

JusticeForAll

Let me clarify my post. The boats damaged were new boats that were briefly mooring in Taylor's creek. None of them had been there more than a few days when they were "violated." None of them abandoned or inoperable.

Jackie Gleason

Just as a general reference.....this case should have never been heard in small claims court. It is Common Law vs. Admiralty Law. I understand the citizen may not have been able to afford a lawyer. But the Town of Beaufort and Tow Boats would have been thrown out of an Admiralty Court based upon what they had done. In addition, they would have had to pay serious dollars to the citizen for impounding the boat without proper notification and then beaching the vessel causing harm. Classic case of kangaroo small town Government trying to impose their will.

CARTERETISCORRUPT

Interesting tidbit of information: Mayor Newtons brother practiced Maritime Law in Beaufort for many years. He is still there.

David Collins

Where would a admiralty law case be heard ?

CARTERETISCORRUPT

someone here has alleged criminal activity. I suggest they report this alleged activity to authorities. Or is it just smoke?

JusticeForAll

Some criminals think they are ever so clever. :)

noitall

Carolina Beach has a world class mooring field and charges a fee for overnight use. A few years back the State and the Wild-lifers or Tourists guys funded moorings for transits to be built along the ICW. Swansboro got one and turned it into a transit dock with shared private ownership. Nice facility but hard to access and no ice so it was not popular. Sailors don't spend money - their money or anyone's money. I, at one time, joined the Taylor Creel Yacht Club. but it fell apart after a real fist fight over the name. Great story. Beaufort is lost in the 19th Century so best we leave them alone.

Random dude

During the hearing, the immunity clause, named several times, as "waiver of immunity ", was used only as a tactic by the defense attorney Norwood to state the town's dominance, as each time after the mention of this "waiver ", the magistrate would nod. As the plaintiff would state various points, i.e. from the town not following it's own ordinance, to violations of constitutional rights...silence would fall upon the courtroom, as nothing the plaintiff said made any effect, all words falling upon deaf ears...but who knows, perhaps the entire hearing is on tape, as instead of the normal courtroom, everyone was moved over to the superior courtroom, and this was odd, as other than the individuals directly associated with this case, there were perhaps 6 other people in the courtroom, not including security...

David Collins

Once again . What will come of this ? Appeal ?

Random dude

Just a side note...there is an issue that has been given little attention. Everyone casually states, including a recent wcti story, blah, blah, but just throw the boats in whatever landfill....Even in this case, towboatus, readily admits,....and boat debris was taken to landfills....but no one, as yet, has questioned, which landfill?, as MOST landfills explicitly prohibit boat debris....probably, due to the toxic nature of the exposed materials, i.e. lead, etc. Take, for example, this case, one, 26 foot boat had, 2300 pounds of lead in the keel. Now, we know how toxic lead is in the water supply, even without a visit to flint, Michigan...Yet, as mayor Newton, was taking selfies, touting the great benefits of cleaning our waterways...where did that boat debris go? Backed by panels of environmentalists...I'm sure some of them have families, perhaps even little children. And no one questions..

noitall

Not easy to dispose of fiberglass. I was quoted $6000 to recycle a 30 foot cruiser. Any recycle will take the lead but fiberglass has no value. There is a 26 ft yawl at the end of Sound Drive on the hard now for three years. Free for the guaranteed taking.

David Collins

To be sure , as valuable as lead is it was sold for scrap . Actually it is the copper in the anti fouling paint that is a concern . The landfill would have to be a lined land fill . Proper incineration with scrubbers would be the best thing for all .

Used to be a TV show about boat salvage in Florida . Lots of valuable stuff can be reclaimed and sold but the final dispensation part was always left out . Very possible that a deep hole was dug and on a dark windy night a match or two was lit .

powerwatcher

I wonder if the town of Beaufort would have stolen and destroyed the luxury 105-foot Miniskirt sailboat that is docked at Beaufort? This was a travesty of justice perpetrated by the town of Beaufort, the police department, and TowBoatUS. Taking this matter to another / higher court as some of you have suggested will require retaining an attorney with maritime experience. So, the boat owner/plaintiff, in order to try and find some kind of justice, must pay attorney's fees of likely thousands of dollars. The town obviously knows this so again it has the upper hand; unwilling or unable to treat its citizens in a democratic, fair manner.Is there absolutely no justice anymore?

The plaintiff deserves justice !!!

arnerday

Remember how every photograph featuring Beaufort in national news media used to show boats resting peacefully at anchor in Taylor's Creek. That was then, when Beaufort was widely known for its welcoming attitude toward boaters, and this is now, and there's a new sheriff in town and he has it in for the boats. Remember the derelict bicycle fiasco? Well then came the boats being seized regardless of their licensed, tax-paying status. What was done to this boat owner-the town's actions concerning the seizure of his boat without due process-not only goes against every tenant of maritime but of civil law. It was just WRONG and I fervently hope he has the wherewithall to appeal the magistrate's decision to a higher court where he would almost certainly prevail and be awarded the fair and justifiable compensation to which he is entitled.

Buckohbong

Wow! So, this is the "new" Beaufort? I will share this letter as far and wide as possible and, hope this doesn't happen to any friends. What about a class action lawsuit, GoFund Me, etc? What a joke! Who remembers Oweeno Sonny Michetelli, the guy that "threatened to blow up the waterfront" back in the mid 80s? Beaufort was shut down, guys with guns everywhere! They brought him in in a small boat while he stood by in the bow like he was conducting the whole thing. Misdemeanor charges, no fine and, his wreck of a boat graced Taylor Creek for quite a few more years. Now, they're illegally seizing a local citizen's boat? Word travels fast in the cruising community!

JohnnyR

I'd be perfectly fine if they dragged up every sailboat and dumped it in the landfill. Beaufort was a thriving fishing community where menhaden was a lucrative business and a person could make a living commercial fishing by oystering, clamming or shrimping. You could actually harvest oysters just about anywhere before all the condos were built on the marshes polluting the wetlands.

So yeah, tell the "cruising" community to just move on, that'd be fine with me.

David Collins

Ah , those glorious days of yesteryear Beaufort , that really were not so glorious . Just another hardscrabble fishing village where most everyone was pretty much equally poor . The menhaden fishery was not exactly what one could say is preferred duty as witnessed by the participants but better than pulling cotton and suckering tobacco . The stink never awaited . But , that is what they had . They sold out for a quick buck and the demographics changed to what we have today . Just like similar villages all up and down the coast . My mother’s family came from Cape Cod . Enjoyed it as a child but would not cross the bridge today for love or money . Just a suburb of Boston now . Same thing .

David Collins

Abated not awaited , darn that quick fill , Again .

JohnnyR

You ever worked as a commercial fisherman David?

Random dude

To digress...dont worry about all the blow boats, ur former verbiage, being dumped n the landfill, cause the same people r gonna dump all the trawlers there too. Menhaden, here in Beaufort at least, only made money for those at the top, Potter, or Wheatley, the rest just got by...Commercial fishermen, a couple of families prospered, while most, again just got by...and yes, I have fished 4 money or sport and i am from here. The problem is that the people making decisions about the future of this area, whether they b from here or not, have a different vision of what they want this area 2 b. They would never get their hands and feet dirty looking for a clam, they want a nice clean Walmart clam, or even better Harris Teeter. So they make a law, no more clamming. They dont want to c that blow boater chilling on his boat, drinking beer, and not paying rent, so they make a law, no more anchoring for free. They dont wanna c anyone that is not a millionaire, so remember all that public land where the old draw bridge used to b, remember how average people could fish, launch a kayak, being one of the few places to access the water, gone. The town,GAVE. It away, to make more private docks and less for anyone else that doesn't pay first.

David Collins

Does pot fishing for Black Sea Bass count ? Quite enjoyable but not economically viable . Way too many folks with their hands in your pocket and then the Feds. with their endless regulations . The saying , a truly successful commercial fisherman has a wife with two jobs , proved to be quite accurate but that was in a different life .

Random dude

As another side note. Eventually, the town of Beaufort got to Oweenos, Guido's, or whatever u call him, boat. The town had the fire department burn his boat while still in the water. I believe, it was his home at that time, and I believe their is something in the constitution about destroying someone's home, but I'm not an attorney. Something like a King would do, no rules, just whatever those in power choose. Oweeno is dead now, his wife Graham is still around here, on land, if u know where to look for her. Oddly enough in this latest purge of rogue boats after hurricane florence, her vessel somehow made it outta town creek, only to be wreaked in a marsh, almost as if it had been on it's way to morehead city, home of towboatus, and then for some reason didn't make it there....

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