Eileen Hart and her daughter in Israel. (Photo courtesy of the Hart family)
- Eileen Hart objected to a mandatory re-evaluation of her property value that would drastically increase her tax rates
- She read the Constitution at a tax dispute forum and called one of the appraisers a "pencil-pusher"
- One of tax officials called 911 saying Hart threatened to return with a gun, but she unequivocally denies the claim
- Hart was charged with making "terroristic threats" and told that if she didn't turn over her weapons, her bail would be prohibitively high and it was unclear how long she would have to remain in jail
A New Jersey mother was arrested and told to turn over her guns after reading the Constitution and peacefully protesting at a tax dispute forum, she says.
Eileen Hart was with her husband Keith and her 7-year-old daughter on Saturday at the Gloucester Community Center to dispute a mandatory home re-evaluation that would roughly double her property value (and therefore dramatically increase her rates), objecting on multiple grounds. As an Orthodox Jew, she refused to have the inspectors in her home when her husband was away at work. As an American citizen, she objected to the seemingly arbitrary reappraisal, noting that she is not planning on selling her home and hasn't renovated her kitchen in 30 years.
But at the forum, Hart was allegedly told that since she didn't let the inspectors into her home, they had a right to "assume" its value under the New Jersey state constitution.
"How could they assume that my value had doubled when there is absolutely no housing market?" she asked TheBlaze rhetorically over the phone. "There is basically no GDP growth."
After Hart started citing the Constitution, a representative of Appraisal Systems, Inc.-- the company contracted by the state to conduct appraisals-- started "freaking out," she said, and called for Gloucester County tax assessor Robyn Glocker-Hammond.
"Sit down and shut up," Hart said Glocker-Hammond told her, adding that she (Glocker-Hammond) was there to "enforce the law."
"I didn't see a badge," Hart noted. "Her title is tax assessor, not law enforcement officer."
Glocker-Hammond started speaking to Hart's husband like a "two-year-old," Hart claimed, and after she objected, Glocker-Hammond once again told her to be quiet.
"I have a right to speak out against this, this is a public place, my tax dollars pay your salary," Hart told the tax assessor, already incredulous at the drastic increase in her rates.
"I don't work for you," the assessor allegedly retorted.
At that point, Appraisal Systems, Inc. representative Andrew Colavecchio started advancing towards her, she said, like he was about to grab her arm. "Don't you dare touch me," she said after he allegedly got so close he touched her coat.
Glocker-Hammond then told her she had to leave the public forum and threatened to call the authorities, though Hart swears she never cursed or acted inappropriately.
That's when things got serious.
As Hart left the building she saw Colavecchio "sneering" at her and said to him in passing, "look at the little pencil-pusher."
Hart said Colavecchio threatened to call 911 and "ran after us in the parking lot like a banshee, his face was purple, [he was] disheveled, [he] started to take down my license plate and ran off. When he got to the doors of the building he screamed at us, 'let’s see if you can pay your taxes now!'"
Much to her surprise, Hart returned home to numerous police cars, the officers asking if they could bring her in for questioning even though they did not have a warrant. She was not allowed to drive behind with her husband, but was forced to ride in the police vehicle.
Colavecchio had apparently told the police that Hart was "yelling and screaming" and threatened to return to the meeting with a gun.
Here's a copy of the police complaint:
This document has been modified by TheBlaze to remove sensitive information. (Image courtesy of Eileen Hart, via Harriet Baldwin)
But Hart told TheBlaze: "I did not use one curse word, I didn’t say the word gun, I didn’t swear, none of that. I aired my grievances in a public place to [tell] the government that I did not agree with what they were doing to me or to anybody else."
Hart said she was doubly surprised when, instead of getting her side of the story, police handcuffed her to a chair and charged her with "terroristic threats."
She told TheBlaze with conviction:
"I have a 7-year-old daughter, I homeschool her. I would never risk going to prison for the rest of my life and lose everything. I have no criminal history, I have no history of drug abuse, no history of alcohol abuse, I have no history of mental illness, I have never committed a crime a day in my life. And because I used my First Amendment right I was arrested for it."
After trying to "coerce" her into making a statement along the lines of "what he thinks happened," Hart said the police sergeant informed her that if she didn't turn over her firearms for "safe keeping," her bail would be set prohibitively high and it was unclear how long she would have to remain in custody.
"[So I] sit in jail and my daughter doesn’t have a mother...?" she asked TheBlaze, implying that she didn't really have a choice in the matter.
Hart turned over her two firearms and associated equipment, and was told that she'll get them back "when this is all over."
This image has been modified by TheBlaze to remove sensitive information. (Image Courtesy of Eileen Hart, via Harriet Baldwin)
Hart says she has hired a "fantastic" attorney to fight the claims, and he'll likely reach out to the other meeting attendees to corroborate her story. The group was small, so presumably someone would recall a raving woman threatening to return with a gun.
But the county's public information officer Deb Sellitto told TheBlaze in an email, without any specifics, that Ms. Glocker-Hammond "has never experienced this type of extreme behavior from a taxpayer."
She added that the Appraisal Systems, Inc. representative is the one who actually called police, though, because "he perceived the resident's statements as a threat."
Hart is deeply distressed by the entire situation.
The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Hart says she can't help but recall the "massive gun registration [and] invasion of private property" that occurred when Hitler invaded Poland.
"If quoting the Constitution makes me a terrorist, we are in Hitler’s America," she said incredulously.
Andrew Colavecchio of Appraisal Systems, Inc. has not responded to TheBlaze's request for comment, and the company's CEO Ernest Del Gurecio told us they plan to wait for all the facts before making a statement.
(H/T: Harriet Baldwin/The Examiner)
This post has been updated to include a comment from Deb Sellitto, the public information officer for Gloucester County.
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