Troy Walker, the owner of Dog Tag Furniture, believes law enforcement and city officials in Norwood Young America, Minnesota, are unfairly targeting him and his business because of past conflicts with the city.
Now Walker, whose charity helps families of deceased veterans pay for their funerals, has had all his electronic devices seized by the county sheriff's office and faces a disorderly conduct charge that he claims is a case of mistaken identity.
What's the story?
Walker founded Dog Tag Furniture, a company that manufactures wooden American flag wall art and also sells apparel and takes donations to help fund funerals for veterans, whose families receive little government assistance to cover the costs.
Walker originally made the wooden flags in his driveway, which initially caused a conflict with the city because the business was cited for violating a nuisance ordinance. That situation was eventually resolved in July 2017, and now Dog Tag Furniture operates on a farm outside of city limits.
Dog Tag Furniture garnered national media attention as a result of the nonprofit's inspiring mission and the conflict with the city. The perception that the city was harassing Walker and trying to shut down the charity angered some supporters, and led to two emails that have Walker facing some legal peril.
In early March, the Carver County Sheriff's Office began investigating an email sent from someone who goes by the name Jacob to Norwood Young America City Clerk/Treasurer Kelly Hayes. According to the sheriff's office, the email was "related to allegations of harassment by City of NYA officials against 'Mr. Walker.'"
Shortly after that email was sent, Hayes reported that someone followed her around town for about a half hour.
A few weeks later, Walker received an email from an address alleging to be Hayes. The email told Walker to leave town and implored Walker to kill himself. However, the email came from a gmail account that misspelled the treasurer's name, casting doubt that it was Hayes who was responsible.
Walker said Hayes has accused him of being the one who followed her in her car, and of sending the threatening email impersonating her. He said the city has yet to publicly deny responsibility for the email.
What did the sheriff's office investigate?
The sheriff's office investigated both emails and traced them back to Walker's IP address, which means they were sent by someone using the internet at Walker's home. Walker denies that he sent the emails, and says he has a public, unprotected network so volunteers can freely get online when they're at his home.
Walker, citing consumer protections, refused to allow authorities to go through his computer files to trace who sent the emails. So, on April 27, sheriff's deputies served a search warrant at his home and seized all Walker's electronic devices, including those belonging to family members who were visiting at the time. They told him it could be as long as six months before he gets them back.
"I was trying to handle it civilly," Walker said. "I would have let them access my computers with my attorneys there. I didn't want them to have unfettered access to my computers."
Last week, Walker was charged with one count of disorderly conduct related to an alleged incident that occurred at Norwood Young America City Hall on April 27, shortly after authorities had seized Walker's electronics.
The sheriff's office said the exact details of that incident can't be made public yet, but that it's based on a report from a city official and a witness statement. Walker said a sheriff's deputy told his attorney that they were charging him because he went to city hall and threatened employees.
Walker said he hasn't been to city hall since September 2017, and that the charge must be a case of mistaken identity. He speculated that he was mistaken for someone else who was at city hall that day, wearing a Dog Tag Furniture shirt and hat.
"That day, after the search warrant, I never left my wife's or my mother-in-law's side," Walker said. "Because I was getting falsely accused. Then I went straight out to the shop, where I have additional witnesses, two of them are tied to law enforcement."
According to Walker's defense attorney, Christina Zauhar, Walker's arraignment date is May 21. The investigation into the emails from his IP address is still ongoing. City officials did not return multiple requests for comment about this situation.
Walker said he believes he has been a target of city officials ever since he fought back against their nuisance ordinance, and that the city is upset that he also helps other people do the same.
He said throughout this ordeal, he has been threatened by law enforcement to not go public, harassed by city officials, and subject to "stalking" by sheriff's deputies and detectives. Carver County Chief Deputy Jason Kamerud said he is unaware of any threats made by officers, and that he has no reason to believe there has been an increased police presence at any of Walker's properties.
Because the sheriff's office has all his electronic devices, Dog Tag Furniture has been effectively shut down for the time being, Walker said. The charity has also lost multiple potential sponsorships due to the email investigation and the disorderly conduct charge. Walker said he plans to pursue legal action against the city in the future.
He said he now fears he could be arrested at any time due to an alleged meeting at city hall during which Walker said city employees were told he was armed and dangerous, and to call 911 and not engage him if he showed up there again. And now, Walker believes that authorities will extend this ordeal as long as possible.
"They know the longer they drag it out, the more impact it's going to have on me," Walker said. "It just seems like 'we're going to do this because we can, and this is what you get for voicing your opinion against city hall.'"