Brookfield Township filed a civil suit June 15 against Tommie Phillips and Kathy Norris Phillips, asking a Trumbull County Common Pleas Court judge to order that they clean up the vehicles and other items on their property.
If the Phillipses do not clean up the property at 8085 Warren Sharon Road, the township would like to have the authority to do it.
When asked about the suit, Tommie Phillips suggested that a NEWS On the Green reporter go for a walk with him. They walked a short distance down Warren Sharon Road to Brightview Avenue, a rutted, dirt road, the west side of which is littered with non-working cars, trucks, heavy equipment and trailers.
They walked past township Code Enforcement Officer Jimmy Ewing, who was talking to a man on Brightview.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone here,” Phillips said of township officials.
Tommie Phillips turned east onto Atlantic Street, where two broken-down minivans and other debris are in front of an empty mobile home.
The point to this walk, Tommie Phillips said, was to show that there are lots of properties around town that are comparable to his. He alleged the township is singling him out because of race. He is black and his wife is white.
“I think it’s a black-white thing,” Phillips said.
Phillips’ claim of racism is “the farthest thing from the truth,” said Trustee Dan Suttles.
“I make no decisions, on what I’m going to do, based on race at all,” he said.
In response to Phillips’ claim that he is being singled out, Suttles said, “There are several properties in Brookfield that need our attention, and we are working on them.”
The action against the Phillipses resulted from frustration in being unable to get the property cleaned up after three years of prior legal action through a criminal court, trustees have said.
“He is violating the law, and this is ongoing for a long time,” Suttles said.
Trustees Ron Haun and Gary Lees said they would not comment on Phillips’ allegations. At the June 19 Brookfield Township Zoning Commission public hearing on the proposed zoning resolution, Haun said he wants to take civil action against “the biggest violators” of the property maintenance code.
The Phillipses, who said they had not seen the lawsuit, also said they are cleaning up the property and plan to sell their home and move.
Kathy Phillips called the suit “upsetting.”
“We are good people who don’t bother anyone,” she said. “He coaches football and missed so much with kids the 10 days he sat (in jail). I’m 52, never been in trouble, was in medical field 30 years.”
She also said her husband “loves his cars.”
The jail time Kathy Phillips referred to was part of a criminal case that dates back to July 2015, when the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Department charged the couple with a nuisance violation in Trumbull County Eastern District Court. Each pleaded no contest and was fined $100, put on 1 year probation and ordered to clean up the property. They admitted probation violations a year later, and probation was extended for another year.
New probation violation charges were filed, and Tommie Phillips admitted violating probation June 7. He was jailed for 10 days and released June 17.
Kathy Phillips faces a probation violation hearing June 28.
The township’s civil complaint alleges the Phillipses have “repeatedly and flagrantly violated” the township’s External Property Maintenance Code and Ohio law “regarding dumping by collecting scrap motor vehicles on the property, dumping boats and other debris on the property, (and) collecting scrap tires on the property.”
Despite an order from Trumbull County Eastern District Court Judge Rob Platt to clean up the property, the Phillipses “have actually added additional vehicles,” the complaint says, and about 35 were there at last count.
The Phillipses conduct has “harmed the present and future value of neighboring properties and (has) disturbed neighbors,” the complaint says.
Tommie Phillips said he has removed 10 vehicles since April and is planning to get a roll-off.
“I don’t think it’s a junkyard,” he said, noting three or four vehicles that he said still run.
Once the Phillipses are served with a copy of the suit, they have 28 days to respond.