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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Failing PA Farm Seen as Native American Bias

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A rural Pennsylvania couple sees their failing farm as the latest "chapter in the sad history of government exploitation of Native American people and their land."

In their federal complaint filed Tuesday, Dale and Renee Thorpe describe years of harassment they claim to have faced in Upper Makefield, Pa. The Thorpes say Dale "is related to the American hero, Jim Thorpe," an early 20th century athlete whose remains have become a tourist attraction in the Pennsylvania township named for him.

In June 2010 newly elected town supervisor Mary Ryan sent an email showing that she would "do whatever was necessary to cause the Thorpes to lose ownership of the Thorpe farm," according to the complaint.

An email from a Comcast address but signed Mary Ryan is included as an exhibit to the complaint. Among the newly elected supervisor's plans are appointments to local positions, "Join the Tea Party," and "Condemn Thorpe farm and rezone it."

The Thorpes say that they had refused an offer from Ryan's husband a year earlier to buy a parcel of the Thorpe farm.

David Kuhns, director of Planning and Zoning, allegedly made repeated warnings to the Thorpes that he would declare the farm unsafe for human occupancy, even after the Thorpes were making repairs to their farm store after Hurricane Sandy had destroyed a portion of it, the complaint says.

The Thorpes allege that Kuhns also refused to grant them a permit to host a haunted house on their farm and ordered them to remove longstanding signage, citing the town's zoning code.

Mary Eberle, a partner at Grim Biehn & Thatcher whom the town retains as its solicitor, rejected the racism claims in an interview.

"I have never seen a hint, not a hint, of discrimination against Mr. or Mrs. Thorpe," Eberle said. "Unfortunately they found on some financial hard times and weren't able to do the maintenance or repair to keep their property safe for access by the public. The zoning officer, was at all times, extremely sympathetic to what they were going through in terms of their financial situation. I am mystified as to why they would reward his efforts with this kind of lawsuit. They couldn't have found someone who fought harder for them."

The Thorpes also attached as exhibits to their complaint a Feb. 20, 2013, letter from their attorney, telling Kuhns to "cease and desist" from future contact with the couple.

Eberle's Feb. 22 response is also attached. It says: "Your letter demands that Mr. Kuhns cease all contact with the Thorpes. That is not going to happen."

On Feb. 25, Kuhns wrote the Thorpes that their farm store was unsafe for occupancy, according to one of the final exhibits.

The Thorpes seek damages for violations of their equal protection and due process rights, among other issues. They are represented by Robert Vance Jr.

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