By Joel Thurtell
A year ago today, I went looking for the public boat launch at Detroit’s Riverside Park and was run out of the park by a shotgun-totin’ goon employed by Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun.
It soon became clear that Matty had illegally seized part of the park, and his henchmen were illegally kicking others — not just me — out of a public place. Although he doesn’t own it, Matty needs the park to add onto his bridge. So he’s pretending he owns it, a bluff that may just work.
Sure, the city has gone to court to evict Matty from the land he’s squatting on.
Amazingly, the judge is still dithering about this no-brainer.
A year into this story, and Matty still acts like he owns the park.
Matty’s position is still the same: He’ll grab whatever he needs to expand his bridge.
My position hasn’t changed, either: Send a SWAT team to run him off city property, charge him and his minions with criminal trespass, declare the bridge a public nuisance due to the explosive automotive fuel he’s storing under it and seize it under eminent domain.
Here is the story I wrote a year ago today:
Please don’t look at these pictures!
By Joel Thurtell
Matty Moroun doesn’t want you to see these photos.
In his eyes, they’re contraband. Maybe he’d like them to be seized by the Border Patrol.
The billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge has grabbed parts of two City of Detroit Parks and — maybe to cover up his takeover — he’s banned photography from what remains of the publicly-owned park. He claims authority under Homeland Security, but city officials tell me the feds say he’s acting on his own.
I found out about this by accident on Monday, September 22, 2008, while exploring one of the parks.
I almost fell into Matty’s clutches.
One of his gunslingers tried to arrest me for taking photos in the city’s Riverside Extension Park.
Luckily, I made good my escape.
But it’s clear I’d better be careful next time I explore a public park the bridge magnate wants for his own.
Is this kind of harassment by a hireling commonplace? Maybe it explains why nobody was using the park. I have since learned that Moroun’s henchmen had ejected a city parks worker from this same park. Isn’t that outrageous?
Actually, Moroun is treating the parks — Riverside Park on the Detroit River and its extension at 23rd Street near Fort — as his own property. Why, he lets his guards drive across the lawn and push law-abiding citizens around! I saw it. It happened to me.
What he is, fundamentally, is a squatter.
A rich mooch.
I couldn’t believe what happened to me as I peacefully snapped photos at Riverside Extension. For the second time in less than a week, a security guard threatened to sic the feds on me.
First time it happened was Friday, September 19 on the Rouge River as I putt-putted in my motorboat up the freighter docking bay at SeverStal steel mill. A security guard huffed and puffed that I was boating in a “Marine Security Area” and had to get out pronto. He said he was going to take my boat number and report me to the Coast Guard. I reported on this incident in an earlier column, but since have talked to the Coast Guard and learned there are no boating restrictions on the Rouge River. The guard was full of crap. Nor did the SeverStal hired gun ever turn me in. He was REALLY full of crap.
Then on Monday, September 22, I learned about Matty Moroun’s effort to privatize the two City of Detroit parks near his Ambassador Bridge. Rich as Croesus Matty, I’m told, has fenced off a public boat ramp to the Detroit River at Riverside Park off West Grand Boulevard, citing “homeland security” and the need to protect his bridge from…
From what? Kamikaze boats out of Windsor?
It’s a brazen ripoff of public land.
I’m also told the city of Detroit is considering suing to make him open the ramp and get off park land. City lawyers are worried that by gradually cramping usage of the park, people will stop coming. Then he can show it’s not being used and offer a low-ball price.
It burns me up to hear of private people — usually rich jerks like Matty Moroun — commandeering public boat ramps. I decided to have a look. Problem was, I didn’t know exactly where Riverside Park is. I wound up in the city park called Riverside Park Extension. It’s a big grassy lot with a ball diamond, a porta-john and a couple of trash barrels. Nobody was using it on that bright afternoon. Soon, I would learn why.
I noticed a chain-link fence on what I took for the park’s perimeter. Clamped to the fence are signs that say, “WARNING DUE TO HOMELAND SECURITY NO TRESPASSING VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED.”
Beyond the signs and behind the fence are heaps of gravel or sand. Later, I learned that the fenced-in area with gravel and threatening signs is actually part of the park. Matty has taken it over. The signs are not from the Department of Homeland Security. He had them made. So Matty’s threatening to prosecute people for “trespassing” in a public park!
I walked along what I took, as I say, to be the park’s border, snapping photos here and there. At the east end, I snapped photos of the WARNING signs and the bridge. All the while, I was trying to figure out how to get to the main park. I could see parts of a green lawn and what looked like a pavilion across a set of railroad tracks.
Suddenly, I was aware of company. A guy in a big white pickup truck tore across the park lawn, leaving deep tracks in the grass. I snapped a photo of this guy and the truck as he stopped on the grass beside me.
He was a muscular guy with tattoos on both arms. He had a shaved head and a gray goatee. On the passenger seat beside him, leaning against the seat back, was a shotgun.
“You can’t take pictures of the bridge structure from here,” he said. “Homeland Security. You can only take pictures back where you’re parked.”
“This is a public park,” I said. “You can’t stop me from taking pictures in a city park.”
“You can’t take pictures here. Go back to the parking area.”
I snapped his picture.
He pointed to a decal on the side of the truck: L.S.S. SECURITY (800) 542-3821.
I snapped a picture of the decal.
“What’s your name?” I said.
“Your last name.”
He pointed to the side of the truck again.
“You need to get out of here,” he said.
“No,” I said.
“Okay, you can talk to the Border Patrol.” He picked up a hand-held radio and talked to someone, saying into it, “I’ve got a guy hassling me here with some cameras. I’ll hold him here till you come.”
Doug No Last Name put the radio down and told me, “Wait here. The Border Patrol is coming. You can talk to them.”
“No,” I said. “I think I’ll leave.”
“No! You’re staying here!”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “You’re a private security guard and you don’t any authority over me. This is city property.”
I started walking across the grass.
Shotgun Doug backed his pickup and turned around, making a new set of tracks in the lawn. He beat me to the parking area and parked his pickup directly behind my little blue Civic, blocking me from behind.
When I got to my car, Doug The Enforcer told me, “Stay right here. The Border Patrol is on the way.”
“You have no authority,” I said. “You’re a private security dick blocking my car on public property.”
I unlocked my car, got in, started the engine, put the trans in drive and made a sharp right turn forward, spinning past him where he sat in his pickup. I made a quick right on Fort Street and headed for the freeway.
But of course, Matty won that round — his shotgun-toting goon got me to leave the park.
That’s what Matty wants — to scare people out of this public place so he can call it his.
Got news for you, Matty. I’ll be back.
No shotgun for me. Just my trusty Canon.
Drop me a line at joelthurtell(at)gmail.com