A night in the Brown County Jail could have been a blessing in disguise for an 88-year-old Horton man who has been cited for a code violation for the condition of his building downtown.
Kenneth Knudson, owner of Knudson Jewelry at 107 W. Eighth St., was ordered to spend one night in jail after being charged with contempt of court in Horton Municipal Court. But since, people are coming out of the woodwork to offer him help.
Police Chief John Calhoon said Knudson had been ordered to provide a plan of action to the court that would describe his intent to fix the back portion of his building, which has loose bricks and a large crack. Knudson said that he did not have the money to fix up the back of his building, which had been deemed a hazard since late last spring when City Code Enforcement Officer Jimmy Stuart began first working with the business owner for the code infraction.
Calhoon said that Knudson appeared in court on Monday, Dec. 23 and was declared in contempt of court because he did not have his plan ready to present after it was requested by Municipal Court Judge Michael Riley during several court appearances. When asked about the case, Judge Riley said he could not comment, but indicated court records were open to the public.
According to city court documents, on May 28, Knudson was issued a summons to appear at the June 10 city court. The case was continued several times and notations in the court documents stated “a fine would be forgiven” if the building was fixed. On Oct. 28, the court notations specified that Knudson was ordered to have the building in compliance, or made progress by Nov. 25. If not, he could be held in contempt. He was ordered to appear in court every two weeks until he came into compliance.
Calhoon, who took over as Horton Police Chief in September, said Knudson has appeared at every Municipal Court date since he took over.
“It was my understanding that he was asked for at least a plan of action to present to the judge, but he failed to do that,” Calhoon said. “There are crumbling bricks and a large crack, that could pose a hazard. People complain of eyesores and dilapidated buildings, which can be hazards or bring down the value of property. But if we ignore the laws, then that creates a liability.”
Calhoon said the judge ordered Knudson to report to Brown County Jail at 9 a.m. on Dec. 26 as a result of the contempt of court charge.
“It was my understanding he was there for 24 hours and bonded out,” Calhoon said.
Calhoon said that an elderly woman from Horton was also ordered to report to Brown County Jail Dec. 26 on a similar charge, due to a code infraction for her property.
Knudson confirmed that he was in jail overnight and bonded out the next day on his own recognizance, without having to pay bail.
“I felt like that was pretty severe punishment,” said Knudson, who said he had been a member of Horton’s business community for several years and past president of the Chamber of Commerce. “I grew up in this area. I am a World War II veteran and I didn’t really expect to be treated this way.”
Calhoon said he felt the situation was an unfortunate one for Knudson and the other elderly person who had to spend the night in county lock-up, but said the law does not exempt anyone from compliance, despite age, whether they are a veteran, or whether they have the money.
“I have a heart and in a small town we want to work with people,” Calhoon said. “But, how long do you do it? I really didn’t like it that an elderly person had to spend the night in jail, but we have to enforce the laws.”
Calhoon said it was his understanding that since word of Knudson’s situation has gotten around that some contractors have offered work at little or no charge to help him fix up the building downtown.
Knudson’s story was first published by Fox 4 News on Dec. 30 and it went viral nationwide on Facebook.
Knudson said his phone has been ringing off the hook and he has received calls from as far away as Maryland and California. And through all of the publicity, the blessing of this entire situation is that people have stepped up to offer help.
“We’ve had quite a few people to offer to help, but we haven’t decided on any one person,” Knudson said, noting he is going to come up with a plan of action to submit to the city.
He is still disgruntled at his punishment, stating he didn’t feel the city codes were designed to “put people in jail.”
“I don’t feel like I committed a crime,” he said. “I can understand the city being concerned about vacant houses and other places in need of repair. But the crime didn’t fit the punishment in this case.”
Calhoon said Knudson is required to appear in Horton Municipal Court at 4 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 13 to present his plan of action.