Tiny town jails 88-year-old World War II vet for building code violation

An 88-year-old World War II veteran and longtime small-business owner was jailed overnight by his small hometown because of a building code violation he can’t afford to fix.

Kenneth Knudson, owner of a jewelry store and hair salon in tiny Horton, Kan., (population: 1,776), went to jail the day after Christmas because he hasn’t come up with a plan to fix failing brickwork on the back of the building that houses his two businesses, according to the Hiawatha World.

Screen shot from Fox4KC

“I felt like that was pretty severe punishment,” Knudson told the World.

Most people would — especially people who’ve been part of their community’s civic life for decades. In addition to running Knudson Jewelry for the past 30 years, he said he grew up in the sparsely populated area (Brown County, Kan., has only about 10,000 residents total) and has served as president of the town’s chamber of commerce president and a member of the planning commission.

“I grew up in this area. I am a World War II veteran and I didn’t really expect to be treated this way,” he said.

Police Chief John Calhoon told the Hiawatha World he sympathizes. But the law, he said, is the law.

“I have a heart and in a small town we want to work with people,” Calhoon told the paper. “But, how long do you do it? I really didn’t like it that an elderly person had to spend the night in jail, but we have to enforce the laws.”

The town offered to fix the problem for $10,000 and apply the costs to Knudson’s tax bill, Knudson said. But that was too much.

“You should be able to buy the whole downtown for $5,000,” he told Fox4KC.

Since the story got picked up nationally, Knudson said he’s gotten numerous offers of help, but hasn’t come up with anything concrete to fix the brickwork yet.

And the offers haven’t taken away the bad taste of jail for an 88-year-old man.

“I don’t feel like I committed a crime,” he said. “I can understand the city being concerned about vacant houses and other places in need of repair. But the crime didn’t fit the punishment in this case.”

Listen to Knudson’s story in his own words on Fox4KC.




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