Shirley Presley Suing City

Shirley Presley — the source of many a lively discussion here — has filed a lawsuit against the city and the Rivanna Trails Foundation. She claims that, in her razor-wiring of the Rivanna Trail’s encroachment on her property, she was the victim of a conspiracy between the city and the RTF intended to deprive her of property, maliciously prosecute her, and violate her rights to due process. She wants $300,000 for her emotional pain, mental pain, and humiliation, plus $10,000 for every month that people continue to trespass on her land.

Liesel Nowak has the story in today’s Progress.

9 Responses to “Shirley Presley Suing City”


  • There are two sad elements to this situation. The first is that this woman and the city could not problem-solve a solution to allow access to the trail in an environmentally-friendly manner (see Daily Progress article). It is sad that a community member decided to chose a physically dangerous and potentially life-threatening way to deter people from littering and damaging plants. A better solution is possible.

    Second, it is sad that Ms. Presley has decided to take such legal action. First, it is likely an attempt to simply make money. She is not seeking a solution to the problem, it appears. Rather, she seems to be attempting to profit from the problem. Moreover, even if Ms. Presley is not trying to profit from failed problem-solving, it appears so. Whatever shread of empathy she may have had for trying to protect her property is now quite dangered. In this day of constant litigation in which everyone is talking about “hot coffee lawsuits,” only the staunchest of individualistic and confrontational folks will have any respect for filing such a lawsuit. It is precisely this reputation (that she is now damaging) which is the stated motivation behind her lawsuit.

    It is possible that Ms. Presley believes that filing such a suit will deter future infringements on her rights by the city and others. This may, in fact, be true. However, it does not solve the ultimate problem of allowing access in an environmentally-friendly manner (her publically stated goal). In fact, it detracts from that goal in that further collaboration with the city and the Rivanna Trails Foundation is not as likely to be successful.

    There is no question that Ms. Presley encountered a problem with the city and fellow citizens using the trail. Everyone encounters problems, though, and the true test of character is the dignity with which an individual handles life’s problems. I wonder if she passed.

  • You know, there are places where this kind of public access issue is handled better than we handle it in the US.

    Last summer I was in Gothenburg, Sweden, attending a conference, my first time visiting the country. After the conference ended I had a half day for a mini-excursion, so I took a tram to the end of the line on the North Sea coast. Not far from the stop I noticed a long headland that looked wild and rocky, and could see where there was probably access off a residential street. So I walked there, and found a trail starting in between a couple houses that led up to an astonishly beautiful mini-wilderness of rocks, moss, and low windswept trees. I was a bit nervous the whole time, though, with visions of some property owner appearing from nowhere to cuss me out in Swedish.

    Only after I was back home did I learn about the Swedish Allemansrätten, or “everyone’s right”, a common-law policy existing there and in other Scandinavian countries giving a general right of public access to walk across wild land, even if it is privately owned. If that doctrine were in force in Virginia, the RTF would have had very little negotiating to do in creating the ring trail, as most of the land it crosses would be covered by its definitions.

    I know, I know. Private property is the true national religion here, so there’s not much point in suggesting that the descendants of Vikings may have evolved a more rational civilization in some ways than our own. Or one that doesn’t involve razor wire, at least.

  • There is arrogance on the side of the city and the Trail Organization that is unbelievable. I have posted what I think before and it will make no sense to rehash that. Ms Presley has been bullied by many and I think that is a shame.

    In the style of many a provocative newspaper column , let me suggest
    an imaginary column:

    Is it true there have been no arrests of trespassers because the Council directed the Police Department not to arrest anyone or protect Ms Presley`s property?

    Did a member of the Council say “Most of the trail users are of my political party so we`ll run over Ms Presley” ?.

    Did the people in charge of the formation of the trail direct certain walkers to wilfully trespass?

    Did the City engage in writing ordinances to suit their tactics against Ms Presley?

    Does the City have secret plans to sieze all of Ms Presly`s property?

    Has the Council met “behind closed doors” to plan a concerted attack upon Ms Presley?

    Did the trail organizers and members engage in a threatening letter writing campaign against Ms Presly?

    Do you know the City hauled Ms Presley into Court?

    Did you know a wise judge told the City they have no case against Ms Presley?

    Did you know the trail users – environment conscious I`m sure – throw literally tons of garbage and trash over all the trails in the area and then accuse Ms Presly of being anti-environment?

    Did you know there is an organized attempt, to this day, to harrass and disgrace Ms Presley?

    Does the City plan to raise Ms Presley`s property tax to a level she cannot afford?

    Did you know the trail map was designed to allow the reader to infer there is no private property involved in that area of the trail?

    Did you know Ms Presly was the wife of a career serviceman , now deceased, and she wants only to be left to live in peace and for the courts to allow her just recompense for damages suffered?

    Did you know the use of razor wire is allowed by commercial operations and that propery is protected by police but the same protection is not afforded by Ms Presley?

    I could go on and on but it will serve no purpose.

    Let`s face it the arrogance of people started this fiasco and they must bear the fruit of that arrogance.

    Good Lord, if kids were bullied this way people would have fits – and do.

    We are either a country operating under the rule of law or we are not – if we aren`t then I see a new car or two, which is private property, I`d like to appropriate.

    There was never an attempt, as far as I know, when the trail was mapped, to contact private owner Ms Presley for permission to use a portion of her land. To me that is enough to anger anyone. All the people who think Ms Presley is in the wrong – well if it were them ??????????????????

  • great post cornelious. i couldn’t agree more. i’ve seen so many arguements like “the trail is a great thing! she should gladly volunteer her private land to ensure that the trail stays open.” but what if the city had tried to annex her land to build a new jail, or a waste management facility, or a bus depot? all potentially necessary projects, but not as nice and clean-cut as the rivanna trail. would people have been so quick to damn her if she’d been fighting to keep a new parking lot from being built on her property? more than likely, people would have rallied behind her, and sung her praises for fighting the city and trying to punish them for such underhanded activities.

  • I’m a neighbor of Mrs. Presley’s, and got to witness a bit of the early arguments over this issue. I’d like to strengthen a point the cornelious made.

    First, a foreword: Mrs. Presley didn’t suddently get upset over a trail that had been on her property for a while. She put up with it there for a very long time without complaint, but over time more and more trash was thrown in her yard and more and more damage was done, until finally she couldn’t take it any more. Maybe some of you would’ve been more tolerant of this than she has been, but I’m sure many of you would have been less.

    Cornelious’s point, which may have been buried in his post, was that she was *bullied*. From the start. When she raised her concerns about the damage being done to her property, the people on the RTF’s side reacted badly to her. They took a snotty attitude and belittled her. And then they suddenly discovered that by golly they didn’t have a right to be on her property, and had in fact never even asked for permission or performed any sort of due dilligence whatsoever. When faced with this realization, instead of going to her, hat in hand, apologising, and asking how they could make it right, they decided to try to shame her and bully her into acquiesence.

    I *firmly* believe that if they had not reacted in this way, that there *would* have been a friendly resolution to this problem from the outset.

    I like the trail. I wish that this problem did not exist and there was no need to detour around Mrs. Presley’s property. I think it stinks that there’s razor wire across the trail. BUT, while I may not LIKE these things, they are perfectly legal and within her rights. Indeed, if people treated me the way they treated her from the get-go, I would’ve been pissed as hell and would likely have dug my heels in just as strongly. Perhaps I wouldn’t have used razor wire, but there woulda been a stink. It was *shameful* the disrespect she was shown, on many fronts, and from people you wouldn’t ever expect it from. Try to push a “little old lady” around, and you might just end up cementing her against you permanently.

    It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking “Oh that horrible woman!” from what’s been shown in some of the local media, or hearing the story through the “grapevine.” Just keep in mind that there’s always more than one side to the story.

  • For god sakes city, just appraise the land she keeps complaining about and buy it from her through eminent domain.

  • Here’s what I think. I pay taxes on MY property. If I don’t want people on it- that is what I am paying for. No one should be on it, near my house- especially with all the crazy people around here. How would you like it if people walked up on your front or back lawn and had a picnic on a Sunday afternoon while you were trying to mow the lawn. How is it different? Leave her alone- back off. I would go eat my lunch and walk around all the city councillors lawns with all my friends every weekend just to see what they would do!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Thanks to Cornelious and others for enlightening me. My comment was based on the few newspaper articles written on the subject, including the Hook article a while back. However, my overall knowledge factor is low regarding this issue. While I believe that legal resolutions should be last resorts, it does appear as though this may have been her last resort. I also maintain that it is a shame that such a noble idea has spawned so much animosity. However, I am not convinced the blame lies with Ms. Presley. Thanks again folks.

  • I agree with cornelius, blanc, lafe and teach. I’ve been watching this fight since the beginning. She did not start this fight, the Rivanna Trail Foundation did by not paying simple respect to her. We pay enough taxes for city/county services which are dwindling, if I don’t want people on my property, they should not be there. Again, it’s her property, the city did what it usually does and thought it could bully a woman. This woman fought back. I applaud her for standing up for herself even though she has been harrassed and ridiculed in the press. I’ve known Shirley for most of my life and she is a kind and wonderful person. Shame on anyone for picking on her!

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