When Pastor Tami Robinson (pictured) filed some paperwork with Tampa, Fla.’s Property Appraiser’s office, changed the locks on two abandoned homes, and moved destitute families in, she thought she was doing God’s work. Yet the pastor’s deeds were instead rewarded with handcuffs by area police for burglary, fraud, and grand theft, reports Tampa Bay Times.
Robinson, who was arrested along with fellow church member Samantha Magras-Gavin last month, are now suing the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office because the women feel that they were unfairly harassed by the sheriff’s deputies due to the color of their skin.
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The women claim that they never intended to break the law and used a rather obscure legal concept to gain entry in to the homes called “adverse possession.” According to Florida Statute 95.18, a judge can be asked by an interested party to declare an abandoned property theirs if they repair and occupy it for seven years while paying the property’s taxes.
Robinson claims she tried to correspond with the property’s owner by sending a letter stating that she was attempting to establish adverse possession. The pastor says that if the homeowner had any objections to her move, she would have abandoned her attempts to possess the property.
“I didn’t want to do anything illegal,” Robinson said. “And if this is so illegal, why does no one stop you and say, ‘You can be put in jail, be called a criminal, be charged with grand theft?’ At no time during my filing — or while talking to the Property Appraiser’s Office — was I told this,” she told Tampa Bay Times.
As for the homes in question, one was owned by a woman serving at a Texas air force base and the other owner planned on selling the property via a short sale.
According to Robinson’s lawsuit:
Plaintiffs are Christians who believe that God favors those who make beneficial and positive use of the resources of the earth. Plaintiffs believe that it is a sin to leave property unused or to force others to suffer for the avarice and hoarding gluttony of others, including the anonymous and soulless banks. Plaintiffs submit that they are doing the same work as Jesus did in clearing the money changers from God’s first house.
The suit also contends that both Robinson and Magras-Gavin believe they were unjustly targeted based on their race and using the obscure law with regards to adverse possession in upper-middle-class homes.
Robinson says the arrest charges have marred her image in the community and that some members of her Well Pavilion Empowerment Center church in Ybor Heights have left.
The sheriff’s office filed a motion to dismiss the suit. No court dates have been set in the civil case nor in the two women’s criminal cases.