This is a true story about a rogue plan commission claiming authority over state laws and the constitution.
This is 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 from our perspective, 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.
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 It was later determined that the application cited a repealed ordinance.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 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 refused to 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.
5/28/2016: The Madison Courier reported the lawsuit as front page headlines 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 as required by statute. 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.
10/12/2016: Judge Auxier refused to recuse himself when requested by the Chapos at the hearing. The following month, the court issued a preliminary injunction order against the Chapos that failed to meet the statutory 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.”
11/23/2016: 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.
12/5/2016: Special Judge Sharp accepted jurisdiction of the case.
12/14/2016: The court held an expedited hearing on all pending matters, including the preliminary injunction.
12/22/2016: The county filed an Amended Complaint and Injunction joining Deputy Big Shot LLC. The complaint again failed to cite any provision of the zoning ordinance allegedly violated as required by statute.
1/4/2017: The court granted all of the county’s motions and denied all Motions filed by the Chapos. The preliminary injunction replicated the first order which did not meet the same statutory requirements. It too is currently on interlocutory appeal.
9/7/2017: A hearing was held on the Chapos and Deputy Big Shot’s Motion to Dismiss and the county’s 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.
The sheriff has never issued a citation to the Chapos or Deputy Big Shot.
9/12/2017: The Plan Commission reported to the County Council that they needed mo money. They requested the transfer of funds from four accounts and an advance of $6,500 from the General Fund to continue feeding their attorney.
10/17/2017: The court issued a ruling Denying the Chapos Motion to Dismiss and Granting the county’s Motion for Contempt. The Order was mailed on 10/24/2017 and was widely distributed through news and social media sites the next day, but not received by Chapos counsel until late on 10/27/2017.
The trial court Granted the county’s Motion for Contempt verbatim, despite the fact that the Appeals Court accepted jurisdiction of the Preliminary Injunction, the basis of the contempt; The appeals case is fully briefed and pending interlocutory review.
The Chapos were charged with contempt without any citation from the sheriff. Instead, the court relied on social media posts from Deputy Big Shot regarding range activities. In the findings of fact, the court ruled, in part:
“6. The Chapos, by affidavit and testimony, assert the disputed tactical and test firing shooting range was in existence prior to 1996. The Court finds the Chapos’ assertion not credible in light of the Chapos signed petition, registration of Big Shot, “Grand Opening” advertising and published material.”
None of these facts are incongruent with the shooting range being established by the Chapos prior to 1996. IC §14-22-31.5-7(3) specifically allows the owner to “expand or increase the membership of the shooting range for public participation at the shooting range.”
Next, the court takes a swipe at Chapos First Amendment Rights, when they were drilled on the meaning of this social media post:
“21. In July of 2017, the Chapos posted an invitation to the community to attend the hearing scheduled in this matter that contained a cartoon caricature of a judge editing the language of the Second Amendment with a marker labeled “Jefferson County.”
In an attempt to clarify the appealed Injunction (without jurisdiction to do so), the court Ordered :
b. The Chapos shall immediately cease and desist in the operation of a tactical and test firing shooting range at the Property, regardless of whether said operation is occurring in an individual capacity or by and through the operation of Big Shot an entity under their exclusive ownership and control. The Chapos shall take all necessary steps to prevent any other person or entity from operating a tactical and test firing I shooting range at the Property, regardless of whether said operation is occurring in an individual capacity or by and through the operation of a business entity.
Contrary to the notorious findings and confusion generated by this Contempt Order and the courts attempt to clarify the appealed injunction, Deputy Big Shot received notice of this Order on 10/27/2017 and took immediate action, temporarily closing the Shooting Range and postponing all Shooting Events until these issues can be resolved. Our Gun Shop is not affected by this Order and remains open and ready to serve our valued customers. We appreciate and really need your support at this difficult time.
Motion for Permanent Injunction
10/26/2017: Motion filed for Permanent Injunction.
Never mind that the Temporary Injunction is pending in the Appeals Court and the trial court is without “Injunction” jurisdiction.
Never mind the Contempt Order was issued on 10/17/2017, mailed on 10/24/2017, but not received by our counsel until 10/27/2017. Never mind the range was closed the same day we received notice and remains closed until the order is resolved, yet the county alleges violation of the Contempt Order before we received notice of the Order.
Never mind that in addition to requesting monetary fines in the millions of dollars and removal of all improvements and alterations, the county acknowledges the Contempt Order does in fact violate the Indiana and US Constitutions. Never mind that the county now requests to make these violations permanent in this masterpiece:
“The JCPC further recognizes the sensitivity of this particular enforcement action as it incidentally bears upon the owners of the Property’s ability to own and operate firearms on their property. However, in light of the Defendants open, notorious and continuance violation of the JCZO and this Court’s Orders, and in light of this Court’s Order of Contempt being, apparently, insufficient to curtail conduct in violation of the ordinance, the JCPC submits that the only permanent injunction that will be sufficient to end the illegal use would be a permanent injunction of any and all operation of firearms on the property or, minimally, the operation of firearms by any non-resident of the property.”
Notorious for illegally exercising Constitutional Rights. Is this our America today?
10/30/2017: After the trial court issued the contempt order and without ruling on the county’s Motion for Final Hearing and Motion for Permanent Injunction, the judge issued the following: “ORDER FOR STAY OF PROCEEDINGS, Comes now the Court and finds that all proceedings are STAYED until the Indiana Court of Appeals issues their decision”. This action effectively prevented Deputy Big Shot, from even answering the complaint. Deputy Big Shot has yet to have it’s day in court, yet it has been enjoined from operating the shooting range.
1/16/2018: Unfortunately, we are still awaiting a ruling on our emergency stay filed in the Indiana Court of Appeals on 11/7/2017. However, we are overjoyed to report that the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund has further committed to stand with us in this epic battle defending all of our rights here in Jefferson County! We’ll continue to keep you posted on our continuing fight for justice…
During this legal battle, our gun shop has remained open and is thriving with the generous support of our customers and friends. However, in order to prepare for the upcoming challenges, we have decided to CLOSE on Sundays (hours available by appointment) until our rights are restored and our range is permitted to reopen. Thank you for your understanding and continued support.
This case really is not that difficult. If only the county and court would acknowledge a few simple facts. Like the fact that Deputy Big Shot is a Limited Liability Company and was not a party to the original action or the Motion for Contempt. Deputy Big Shot has yet to answer the complaint or have its day in court, yet it has been unlawfully enjoined. The liability of Deputy Big Shot LLC and it’s members is limited by law. The Chapos in their private capacity do not operate Deputy Big Shot LLC. Yet, the order intertwines both as one. Or the fact that the complaint failed to state any violation of a zoning ordinance as required by statute. Or the fact that Indiana preempts ranges in existence prior to 1996. Our range was established in 1991. Or the fact that the order violates the Second Amendment Rights of not only the Chapos, but Deputy Big Shot LLC, its members and other individuals. If not for these facts, we wouldn’t be here today.
It is more than disappointing that the Plan Commission continues to litigate in bad faith and apparent that they did not learn their lesson in Chapo vs Jefferson County Plan Commission. In contrast, the NRA understands the true issues in the case and the Chapos and Deputy Big Shot are truly grateful for their generous support in defending this action.