This is a story about a rogue plan commission claiming authority over state laws and the constitution.
This is a story of bias reporting by local news outlets to the point many residents hesitate to visit the range for fear of being arrested or shamed if they support a business the media portrays as operating above the law.
With God, the support of family, friends, customers, and with funding from the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund … the battle continues on. Here’s the right side of this story, as it develops …
A long, long time ago in 1991, Joseph and Sherry Chapo moved to their Agriculturally Zoned 120 acre farm in Jefferson County Indiana and established a shooting range. A few years later the Chapos started their family run sawmill and wood manufacturing business on the same farm. The Chapos later decided to diversify their business offerings while capitalizing on Joseph’s lifelong expertise in firearms and shooting sports. They also wanted to share the love of their historic farm and land with others actively supporting the Second Amendment. In 2012, business plans were put in motion and Deputy Big Shot LLC was formed.
To make sure their business complied with all applicable laws, the Chapos researched, but were unable to locate a gun shop or shooting range listed or regulated anywhere in the county zoning ordinance. The Chapos made an inquiry with the Board of Zoning Appeals/Plan Commission. The secretary informed them that a conditional use permit was required for both uses.
The secretary prepared the application and filled in the classifications provided by the plan commission attorney, placing the gun shop under #595 – Retail Sporting Goods and Bicycles and the outdoor shooting range under #739 – Other Amusements.
The Chapos complied with the required appeals process. It was later determined that the application cited a repealed ordinance.
Opponents thought the classification “Other Amusements” was some form of Adult Entertainment!
The Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) approved the gun shop at the October 2012 hearing. The shooting range application was tabled until the November 2012 hearing at which time the BZA approved all required elements of the conditional use for the range with the exception of noise. The county ordinance did not address noise in a quantitative measure that the BZA attempted to define at the hearing. The Chapos discovered the Indiana Range Protection Act (IC 14-22-31.5) prohibited the county from regulating their shooting range. For this reason and others, they did not appeal the BZA decision.
Fast forward to 2016. A neighbor filed a written complaint with the Zoning Enforcement Officer over the shooting range. The Plan Commission voted to initiate litigation against the Chapos and forward the resolution to the Commissioners; the Commissioners did not sign the resolution. The Plan Commission filed a civil action against Joseph Chapo and Sherry Chapo in the Jefferson County Circuit Court in May 25, 2016.
On May 28, 2016, the Madison Courier reported the lawsuit as front page headlines. The bias article was reported entirely from the county’s perspective. That same evening, the Chapos and their good neighbors woke to the sound of gunshots. The Deputy Big Shot sign was the apparent target of a drive-by-shooting; it did not serve as a good backstop. The Chapos sustained several thousand dollars worth of damage to buildings and equipment. Thankfully, no one was injured. The Chapos were finally served the summons and complaint on June 1st.
The county filed the original action against Joseph and Sherry Chapo; they failed to name Deputy Big Shot LLC. The complaint did not cite any provision of the ordinance that was allegedly violated. The county requested the following relief:
- An injunction preventing the illegal use of the property.
- A continuous enforcement order to authorize assessment of future fines and enforcement by the Sheriffs Department.
- An order for the demolition and/or destruction of all buildings, facilities or improvements of land associated with the illegal use.
- An order imposing penalties not to exceed the maximum allowed by Indiana Code and the Zoning Ordinance.
- An order imposing court costs and fees associated with this action.
- All other relief that is proper and permitted.
At the October 2016 hearing, Judge Auxier refused to recuse himself when requested by the Chapos. The court issued a preliminary injunction order against the Chapos that failed to meet any of the requirements for a preliminary injunction. It stated:
“IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the Chapos and any entity under their control are preliminary enjoined from operating a tactical and test firing range on their Property located at 10214 W. Deputy Pike Road, Deputy, Indiana
SO ORDERED THIS 17TH DAY OF NOVEMBER, 2016.”
On November 23, 2016, Judge Auxier recused himself. The next day (Thanksgiving), the judge recused himself again and vacated the preliminary injunction order. The newspaper reported the judge recused himself because he just learned his brother was on the plan commission, a party to this action. The validity and timing of the orders and the judges recusal is currently on interlocutory appeal.
On December 5, 2016, special Judge Sharp accepted jurisdiction of the case. The court held an expedited hearing on all pending matters, including the preliminary injunction.
On December 22, 2016 the county filed an Amended Complaint and Injunction joining Deputy Big Shot LLC. The complaint failed to cite any provision of the zoning ordinance allegedly violated.
On January 4th, the court granted all of the county’s motions. The preliminary injunction replicated the first order which did not meet any of the requirements and is currently on interlocutory appeal.
September 12, 2017 The Plan Commission reported to the County Council that they had exhausted all litigation funds. They requested the transfer of funds from four accounts and an advance of $6,500 to continue feeding their attorney.
At this time, the Chapos and Deputy Big Shot have a Motion to Dismiss before the court. The county has a pending Motion for Contempt that requests to “clarify and enforce the preliminary injunction” since The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department has expressed concern regarding enforcement of the Order and seeks guidance on when, how and against whom said Order may be enforced.
Jefferson County, please explain how this is a zoning issue when the federal court recently ruled that your right to shoot and practice is a second amendment right? And how is it a zoning issue when state law says zoning ordinances must specifically state what they regulate? It is a fact that the Jefferson County zoning ordinance is silent as to shooting ranges. And how is it fiscally responsible to the citizens of Jefferson County to continue litigating yet another frivolous action. Guess you didn’t learn your lesson in Chapo vs Jefferson County Plan Commission.
The NRA understands the true issues in the case and the Chapos are truly grateful for their generous support in defending this action.