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Posted: 10:14 p.m. Thursday, June 21, 2012

Botanical battle: Woman suing Tulsa after city crews destroy plants

Denise Morrison's yard in north Tulsa
Denise Morrison's yard, full of edible and medicinal plants, a few months after the city of Tulsa removed hundreds of them claiming a violation of the city's nuisance ordinance

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Denise Morrison's yard in north Tulsa photo
Denise Morrison's yard, full of edible and medicinal plants, a few months after the city of Tulsa removed hundreds of them claiming a violation of the city's nuisance ordinance
Denise Morrison's yard in north Tulsa photo
Denise Morrison's yard, full of edible and medicinal plants, a few months after the city of Tulsa removed hundreds of them claiming a violation of the city's nuisance ordinance

By Russell Mills

TULSA —

In a case that has garnered international attention, sparked a petition drive and outraged some, a Tulsa woman has sued the city for destroying thousands of plants she used for food and medicine.

The city told her the plants violated a municipal nuisance ordinanance.

Denise Morrison has filed suit in federal court, seeking monetary damages for more than $10,000 worth of plants she says the city arbitrarily decided to destroy on two properties she owns.

She tells KRMG the dispute actually began nearly six years ago, when city crews "mowed" a two-acre property she owns near N. 46th St. and Lewis Ave.

They took the action the day after she had planted the entire lot, clearly, she says, with plants, not weeds.

After years of wrangling over that action she was ordered to pay the city another $1,000 to cover the cost of the mowing, or lose the property.

Only employed part-time, with a recently deceased son and an elderly mother for whom she cares, it took donations from friends and neighbors to save her land.

Morrison says she was given from 5 p.m. one day until 8 a.m. the next morning to come up with the money.

A month after finally settling, the city showed up at her home, in the 500 block of 49th Pl. North.

She tells KRMG she had checked with the city to make sure everything she was growing at her home was legal.

"They sent me a report back telling me I had no violations," she said. "I wanted to make sure that it wasn't a problem. But after they forced me to pay $1,000 last year to save my property, the very next month they came here."

She called police, she says, and the officer gave her a summons to go to court.

"I went to court August 15th, the judge said we're gonna recommend it over to October court. Okay, come back in October. August 16th, that morning, they had trucks lined up out here."

They told her, "We're gonna take out all of this."

"No you're not," she says she replied. "I'm gonna sue you."

True to their word, the crews removed lemon mint, apple mint, Rose o'Sharon, stinging nettles and even 35-year-old Concord grapes.

All her plants, she says, are grown completely organically, with no pesticides or commercial fertilizer.

They are all edible, and many medicinal.

KRMG contacted the City of Tulsa for a response. Spokeswoman Michelle Allen responded via email.

"This matter you are referencing is now pending litigation in federal court and I am not at liberty to comment at this time."

She did send a copy of the city's nuisance ordinance.

It contains verbiage which would seemingly exempt many, if not all, the plants destroyed on Morrison's property.

The pertinent passage to the ordinance (which is attached as a related link above):

6. Weeds and other rank growths of vegetation upon private property or
adjoining parking, including but not limited to poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac
and all vegetation at any state of maturity which:
a. Exceeds twelve (12) inches in height, except healthy trees, shrubs,
or produce for human consumption grown in a tended and cultivated
garden unless such trees and shrubbery by their density or location
constitute a detriment to the health, benefit and welfare of the public and
community or a hazard to traffic or create a fire hazard to the property or
otherwise interfere with the mowing of said weeds;
b. Regardless of height, harbors, conceals, or invites deposits or
accumulation of refuse or trash;
c. Harbors rodents or vermin;
d. Gives off unpleasant or noxious odors;
e. Constitutes a fire or traffic hazard; or
f. Is dead or diseased

Morrison maintains her plants were for human consumption, constituted no health hazard, was kept clean of trash and did not harbor any vermin.

Online petitions seeking a reversal of the city's stance and the replacement of her plants are circulating, and websites around the world have taken note of the story.

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