It was a fantastic day! Spanish moss swayed gently from giant oak
trees, dancing to the steady drumbeat of waves lapping at the shore. A
life-long dream -- a waterfront home on the bay -- was about to be
realized. Ocie Mills had finally bought the 65-foot building lot. He had
obtained a building permit from the county. He had the state people come
out and flag the area near the shore that is protected by law. And
today, Ocie and his son were actually starting construction on their
dream home. That day was in 1986. The dream turned into a nightmare.
Nineteen loads of building sand were brought in to level an area for
the foundation. Then the feds arrived. "Cease and desist," was the
order. Ocie was caught in the act: "polluting the navigable waters of
the United States."
Ocie said, "surely you jest, I have all my permits." The feds said,
"We'll see you in court."
Ocie had little money to pay attorneys for such a frivolous
encounter. Surely, when the judge looked at the building permit, and the
state's approval, he would throw the case out lock, stock, and barrel.
Ocie didn't hire an attorney.
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The trial came to court in January 1989. The feds showed up with
three attorneys, one from the Justice Department, the Corps of Engineers
and the EPA. They moved to disallow all of Ocie's evidence, claiming
that since federal law superseded local and state law, his building
permit and state documents were irrelevant. The judge ruled in favor of
the feds and both Ocie and his son wound up in a federal penitentiary
for 21 months, and were sentenced to "restore the property to its
original wetland elevation."
When he got out of jail, Ocie began excavating the property to its
"original wetland elevation," at the direction of the feds. When he had
been forced to lower the land eleven inches lower than it was when he
bought it, Ocie protested. He was able to secure an "evidentiary
hearing" to determine the "original wetland elevation" in 1993. A new
federal judge was on the bench.
The judge determined that the property was "probably never a wetland
for purposes of the Clean Water Act." The evidence revealed that the
soil samples taken by the feds had been taken from a drainage ditch. In
his written opinion, the judge said that Ocie's case:
- ... presents the disturbing implications of the expansive
jurisdiction which has been assumed by the United States Army Corps of
Engineers under the Clean Water Act in a reversal of terms that is
worthy of Alice In Wonderland. The regulatory hydra, which emerged from
the Clean Water Act, mandates in this case that a landowner who places
clean fill dirt on a plot of subdivided dry land may be imprisoned for
the statutory felony offense of discharging pollutants into the
navigable waters of the United States.
Although the judge determined that the land was not a wetland,
and that Ocie and his son were innocent, he could not set the conviction
aside because the issue had not been presented in the original trial.
It gets even worse. Three years later, in March 1996, Quenton Wise, a
juror in Ocie's original trial came forward and admitted publicly that
the jury foreman had provided him with information about previous
environmental disputes in which Ocie had been involved. In a sworn
affidavit, Wise testified:
- From the beginning of the trial, Mr. Smith (jury foreman) kept
telling me about Ocie Mills' prior cases. He told me that he was
familiar with Ocie Mills' prior problems and wrong doings because his
son was employed with the State of Florida Water Management. During the
course of trial, Mr. Smith told me that Ocie Mills had threatened
environmental people on his property with a gun, and that Ocie Mills was
wrong for his actions.
I felt almost threatened or intimidated by Mr. Smith during the
trial. I feel that the jury were prejudiced against the Mills' by
information which we received from Mr. Smith, which was not part of the
The story to which the jury foreman referred, was big -- ten
In the mid-1970s, Florida environmental officers carried a green card
that was supposed to entitle them to access on private property. One day
in the 1970s, two card-carrying officials appeared on Ocie's land and
demanded access. Ocie said no, not without a warrant. The officers
insisted, and started to enter the property despite Ocie's protest and
demand for a warrant. Ocie, who is not a small man, physically
restrained the two officers, put them on the ground, and called the
The officers filed a suit against Ocie. In court, the judged ruled
that Ocie was right, ordered a judgement against the state in Ocie's
behalf, and that the state could no longer demand access to private
property without a warrant.
The jury foreman's son worked for the state and was familiar with
Ocie's victory over the state in the 1970s. The foreman's version of
this story persuaded the jury to convict Ocie and his son, according to
The United States District Court in Pensacola has ordered a hearing
for the juror to advise the court of what he was told by the foreman.
The hearing is scheduled for Oct. 29, 1999.
Now the federal government is trying to appeal to the United States
Supreme Court for an order to prohibit the trial court from conducting
this hearing. The federal government is trying to prevent Ocie and his
son from finally being vindicated for a conviction which a federal judge
has already determined they are innocent. The federal government is
trying to cover up the misdeeds of the Corps of Engineers in this case,
and with our tax dollars, it has all the legal resources it needs at its
Ocie has spent everything he had trying to simply clear his name. He
has forgotten the feeling he had on that fantastic day when he and his
son set out to build their dream home. His wife is critically ill. His
son is trying to rebuild his life -- as a convicted felon. All Ocie has
left are his friends, and a hope that what happened to him can be
stopped before it happens to all property owners.
An "Ocie and Carey Mills Legal Defense Fund" has been established at
the Whitney Bank, 101 W. Garden Street, Pensacola, FL 32501. Ocie's
attorney is Ron Johnson, (850) 434-5267. Ocie may be reached by email at