72-year-old Austin veteran is held at gunpoint, home seized because of underground bunker

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: home, bunkers, veterans

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(NaturalNews) If ever there were an example of government adding insult to injury, this is it. What else could you call it when a city government fills in your underground bunker with concrete then bills you $90,000 to do it?

Two years ago, Austin, Texas, resident Joe Del Rio awoke to find city officials demanding he let them in to inspect his home. Before it was all over, the local media reported, a police SWAT team and a host of firefighters had been called in as well.

Del Rio's crime? City officials had a problem with what they described as a "multi-level bunker-type space" under his home that supposedly held suspicious materials.

Detained and questioned for the next 10 hours, authorities eventually let Del Rio, then 70, go free. But over the course of the next few years, his case took some bizarre twists. For one, the city wound up billing him $90,000 for sending a small army of cement trucks to his home to fill in the bunker, saying such action was necessary and prudent in order to make his home "safe."

History of a threat?

Where the city of Austin is seeing a threat, this really seems like little more than a case about being prepared for the worst.

Del Rio, a veteran who once held a high security clearance and used to be a security guard for the Austin City Council, told the local press that the space in question began as a Cold War-era bunker, certainly nothing out of the ordinary for the time, considering the biggest threat during that period was a nuclear weapons exchange between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union.

From there, Del Rio said, the area was expanded over the years into what he called a work space.

Neighbors complained in 2008 and 2009 about holes, which resulted in the city sending over code inspectors. Eventually, the city condemned the property.

Del Rio said that, based on his questioning by authorities, he believed police thought they had another "Unibomber" on their hands. They asked him why he was shirtless and his hair was askew and he answered the obvious - because he had been awakened from his slumber at 7 a.m. Based on reports, city crews seemed disturbed when they found military memorabilia, including inert hand grenades and about a dozen firearms in his home - as if this was the first time anyone in Texas was found with guns and harmless military gear.

Not taking it lying down

Incensed by the whole affair - especially the enormous bill the city sent - Del Rio hired a lawyer and is suing the city for what he says was an unconstitutional, uncompensated seizure.

"The ordeal they put me through was unnecessary," he said. "I've gotten the runaround. I think they want the property. Condemning it is a cheap way to get it."

The irony of his situation isn't lost on his attorneys.

"He guarded the council 22 years, and now nobody's guarding his rights," said one lawyer, Mack Ray Hernandez.

"They jumped to a conclusion," adds co-counsel Lou McCreary, commenting on the city's actions. "This is a hell of a lot of trouble and angst they've caused our client."

Despite the city's action to lock up and condemn his property as uninhabitable, Del Rio says "Travis Central Appraisal District records put the house's reasonable fair market value at upward of $172,000," according to the Austin Statesman newspaper.

Since the seizure, Del Rio bought a condo and has been allowed to retrieve some items from his former "command bunker" home. Adding even more insult to injury, he says the property has been burglarized since he was forced out.

The Texas Constitution says "no person's property shall be taken, damaged or destroyed without adequate compensation being made, unless by the consent of such person."

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