Owner of home seized by city testifies in court - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Owner of home seized by city testifies in court

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A man who says the city of Austin unlawfully seized his home testified in court Tuesday.

According to the city, the tunnels that had been dug under Joe Del Rio's home posed a safety risk.

Joe Del Rio's attorneys argue that what has been called a bunker, was actually a cold-war era fallout shelter and that Del Rio was just trying to build a different entrance to it.

However, the city says what he was doing put himself and his neighbors in danger.

Video shot by the city of Austin shows a shirtless Joe Del Rio being handcuffed the day code compliance officers and police showed up at his home in east Austin.

"We're trying to let the jury know what happened to him on May 8, 2010," said Mack Ray Hernandez, Del Rio's attorney.

During opening statements for the trial to determine if the city lawfully seized Del Rio's property, his attorney told jurors that without any warning, at least 60 city employees descended on his street that day.

Del Rio, a 73-year-old veteran, testified that he was taken to a nearby school and interrogated for nearly 10 hours.

"He said he felt humiliated, embarrassed. He said he suffered a depression, that he was worried about his anxiety level and how it may affect his diabetic condition," said Hernandez.

Prior to that day, a neighbor complained to the city about the excavation work being done on Del Rio's property. A city code inspector came to the home and discovered what has been described a multi-level bunker. The city got a search warrant and a city attorney told jurors that since it wasn't known what the underground area was used for, APD's bomb squad, firefighters and EMS were all there when the property was searched. Handguns, rifles and inoperable grenades were taken from the home.

Del Rio was not charged with any crime. However, the city did board and secure his property, removed the utility meters and filled his underground shelter with concrete.

The city says Del Rio never had the permits to do any excavation work and that it was making his house and the ground around it unstable. Del Rio's attorneys argue that he was just trying to get access to a cold-war era fallout shelter under his home.

"It had a concrete slab, it had cinderblock walls and the bottom of the house formed the top of the fallout shelter," said Hernandez.

Del Rio testified that when his fallout shelter was built, the government was encouraging people to build such shelters in case of a nuclear attack. In fact at one point there was a fallout shelter in the very courthouse where this trial is taking place.

It's the additional excavation work done by Del Rio that the city says posed a safety risk, giving them the right to seize Del Rio's home. He's hoping to convince jurors that the way the city went about it was all wrong.

This afternoon, an engineer that Del Rio had hired, testified that that he thought the underground shelter and the house were structurally sound.

Del Rio has since found another home. His attorneys say he has been fined close to $90,000.

Del Rio got the keys back to his house, but attorneys say it would require a lot of work to set up utilities and get the home up to code.

The trial is expected to last through the week.

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