Laurie Roberts writes about dangerous messy yard criminals

The cops use helicoptors to catch to catch these dangerous messy yard criminals

Laurie Roberts writes about dangerous messy yard criminals that the cops use helicoptors to catch.


No jail time for man in long dispute with city's code officers

Jun. 14, 2006 12:00 AM

Scratch one inmate from Sheriff Joe's jail. Despite the city's best efforts, Johnny Rosen won't be going to the hoosegow after all. The scourge of city code enforcement has at long last cleaned up his yard. And still the city of Phoenix wanted to put him behind bars for 60 days.

Fortunately, sanity prevailed in the name of Judge Karyn Klausner, who pointed out that city prosecutors routinely have more tolerance for wife-beaters and drunken drivers than for Johnny Rosen.

Who, by the way, has decided to leave town.

In retrospect, Rosen probably isn't Phoenix material. The 60-year-old South African grew up in Israel and moved here 12 years ago after falling in love with this country and the idea that a man could live in freedom and peace.

He's a live-and-let-live sort, a guy who lives on an acre and a half in north Phoenix with a turkey, a pig and until six months ago, a collection of cars in his backyard that no one's been able to see for some time now. That is, not unless they hoist themselves onto their trucks or fly overhead in a helicopter, as the city's code enforcement cops are known to do.

Rosen's been fighting with them since 1997, when the city says it got a tip to check out his backyard. While most of it was screened, one side was chain-link fence and through it a neighbor could see roughly 50 Chrysler Imperials, cars that belong in a museum according to Rosen and in a junkyard according to the city. The fact that the neighbor had no complaint made no difference, city officials told me.

Over time, hostilities escalated. Rosen screened the fence so no one could see into his yard. City inspectors then began climbing onto their pickups to peek over the fence and taking to the sky to see if he was obeying their orders. They filed criminal charges against Rosen in 2002.

Meanwhile, his neighbor, who has visible piles of junk in his yard, managed to avoid so much as a single summons to court.

Last year, Klausner sentenced Rosen to 60 days, prompting him to move the cars. Then last week, as his date with jail drew near, he finished the job, clearing the patio that no one can see and cutting his grass.

"Everything is neat and clean," attorney Nick Hentoff told Klausner last week, in asking her to reconsider jail. "This is ready for Phoenix Home & Garden."

A point that impressed the city not at all. Prosecutor Kevin Solie said it would be a "travesty of justice" to let Rosen avoid jail given his longstanding defiance.

"Mr. Rosen crosses the line," he said.

Fortunately, the judge decided that an otherwise law-abiding citizen didn't need 60 days in jail. She noted that Solie's office routinely recommends probation for people who beat their wives or drive drunk, leaving me to wonder why the city was so zealous in its pursuit of Rosen.

Does he rate the same 60-day sentence as the one given years ago to the Valley's most notorious slumlord, a guy who left his tenants to live with raw sewage?

Apparently so, in the city's eyes. But not for much longer. Rosen says he can't stand living in a city that wields a citation book like a bludgeon. So, he's leaving. He's got his eye on an old plantation home in Louisiana. "It's in the middle of 1,000 acres of farmland," he told me, "and there isn't a zoning inspector in sight."

Can't say that I blame him. I wonder about the city's pursuit of Johnny Rosen. Certainly, we need rules and well-meaning code enforcers to make sure we aren't stuck living next to an eyesore.

But is it really an eyesore if the code cops need a helicopter to see it?

Reach Roberts at or (602) 444-8635.


America the Messy Yard Police State