Reciting the Constitution at a public meeting just got one New Jersey woman arrested. Not only did reading a portion of America’s founding document to support her property rights argument land the woman in the back of a police cruiser, she was also told to turn over her guns.
Eileen Hart was arrested for allegedly making “terroristic threats” at a public forum about tax disputes. She attended the relatively small meeting with her husband Keith and their little girl. New Jersey citizens were upset about a mandatory re-evaluation of residential property taxes. Hart, along with many other local families, were angry about their tax rates nearly doubling.
The private appraisal company that inspected the homes appeared to use Eileen Hart’s religious beliefs against her during their visit. Hart is an Orthodox Jew. The rules of her religion prohibit a woman from being alone with non-relative males when her husband is not present. When the Appraisal Systems LLC inspectors arrived at her home, Eileen’s husband was at work.
The New Jersey woman asked the appraisers to please come back when her husband was home as well. They reportedly refused and told her that they had the authority to estimate the value of her property if they were not permitted inside. If the appraisers estimated the Hart family home, they likely did the same at other properties where the owners were gone during the workday.
Exactly why the Hart home appraisal doubled could have been impacted by a variety of things. The family had not conducted any home renovations or additions, and the local real estate market was relatively stagnant, if not in decline. But, as a real estate agent with a property appraiser for a husband, I know those two factors alone do not make all the difference. If the New Jersey county had not conducted annual or regularly cycled real estate appraisals, the property tax assessment could be many years out of date. Considering the nearly five-year decline in the housing market, the county would have had to have been very tardy with updates for a nearly doubled tax hike to occur.
Regardless of whether or not the steep property tax assessment was accurate, the refusal to respect Eileen Hart’s religious beliefs as an Orthodox Jew and the arrest which later occurred are still inexcusable.
The county tax assessor and the property appraiser were reportedly upset about Hart’s questioning of the re-evaluation rules and the process which resulted in her tax hike. She was allegedly told to “sit down and shut up” by the public servant. Ironically, the government official supposedly told Hart that she did not work for her – the tax assessor needs to review how her paycheck is funded.
The New Jersey woman and the appraiser did not see eye-to-eye on how the property evaluations were determined or conducted either. According to Hart, the appraiser approached her during the meeting in a manner she felt threatening and she warned him not to touch her when he supposedly brushed his hand against her coat sleeve.
The appraiser reportedly “ran” after the Hart family to write down their license plate number as they headed towards the parking lot. When they arrived home, police officers were waiting for them. They did not have a warrant but asked her to come to the police station for questioning regarding the threats the appraiser said she made during the meeting. She was reportedly not even allowed to ride to the station with her husband and rode instead in the back of a police cruiser. The appraiser claimed that she yelled, swore, and then said she was coming back to the meeting with a gun.
She was handcuffed to a chair when told that she was being charged with making terroristic threats. She does not have any type of a criminal history. Hart was also reportedly told to hand in her guns for “safekeeping.” If she refused to turn in her guns, she was allegedly told that she could face being held indefinitely or be forced to pay an extremely high bail. Eileen Hart homeschools her daughter, so she opted to hand over her guns to the police officers and return home to her child and husband.
The New Jersey woman referenced the stories her Holocaust survivor parents told her when talking about the property rights dispute and gun forfeiture. She denies all the charges levied against her and has hired a prominent attorney to defend her in court. Although she feels confident that the witnesses at the small meeting will testify that they did not year yelling or gun threats, she is still deeply disturbed by the arrest – as we should be.
If one man’s unsubstantiated claims are all that is necessary to face gun forfeiture and terrorism charges, we all could be at risk. It is shocking that a deeply religious woman reading the Constitution in public spawned such angst by the public official and the man hired to determine how much a citizen pays in taxes.