Justice Delayed…

update: I have made it easy to send a free fax to American National with the click of a button. Click here or on the fax number below.

another update: you can donate to purchase a replacement for the stolen insulin pump here.

“Justice delayed is justice denied.” – William E. Gladstone

Carol and Laura Stutte

That quote kind of sums up a story that has surfaced here in East Tennessee. Today, Rose Kennedy of the Metro Pulse reports that the attorney of Carol and Laura Stutte, Margaret Held, filed a lawsuit today on behalf of her clients against Janice Millsaps “…because the insurance company won’t.”

If the name Laura and Carol Ann Stutte rings a bell, it should. This was the lesbian couple that returned home from celebrating their anniversary in Nashville over Labor Day to find that their Vonore home had been burned to the ground. Their detached garage was newly decorated with two foot letters announcing, “QUEER”.

From this tragedy there was an outpouring of support from caring groups and individuals from all over the world. Furnishings, clothing, household items, and most importantly money was donated to this family that had lost everything in a fire seemingly caused by a hateful homophobe.

It’s been five months. Where are the Stuttes now?

Carol Ann and Laura were staying with friends when the news and blogosphere lit up with their story. In response to all this attention, it is my personal belief, their insurance company, American National Property and Casualty, immediately placed them in a temporary furnished home. However, soon after, when the attention to the story had died down – three weeks, in fact – the insurance company told them to find another place to live.

I spoke personally with Carol Ann who relayed the conversation with the insurance representative. When told they have to find their own place Carol Ann explained they had nowhere to go. The insurance company suggested they move back to their home. Surprised, she reminded the representative their house had burned to the ground. The response was shocking. It wasn’t their problem.

Who do you think has the resources to last longer?

Like many homeowners, Carol Ann and Laura had opted for additional coverage in case of total loss.  This additional coverage would provide for housing as well as living expenses until the claim was settled. Five months later and not a single penny has been disbursed.

Imagine, if you will, how hard it is for some to pay their mortgage from month to month. Now imagine, that not only do you have to pay a mortgage and insurance on a home that no longer exists, but you have to pay for an additional place to live. Why? If they default on their mortgage, their insurance coverage could be canceled. The the insurance company would be off the hook.

In a telephone conversation, the Stuttes confessed that if it hadn’t been for the donations they would not have survived very long. In fact, they said they had been living off the donations from various groups as well as the $11,000 check from the East Tennessee Equality Council for the last few months and it has about run out. They admit having to stick to a very tight budget.

The FBI has named no suspect?

According to a press release from the Stutte’s attorney, Margaret Held, they are suing their primary suspect in civil court because they have run out of options. The insurance company will not talk to them except through an attorney, the FBI, to my knowledge, has interviewed no one but the Stuttes, separately, in a 4-5 hour deposition. It seems they’ve been left to fend for themselves.

Their primary suspect (when I say suspect, I mean according to the Stuttes, not the authorities) is an older neighbor named Janice Millsaps. What is the most astounding fact in this case is that the neighbor had threatened to burn down their home on at least six documented occasions. The neighbor also told them, “…the only thing better than one dead queer was two dead queers.”

“Queers”? Who uses that word these days? We’ll the arsonist for one. What about the rest of us? If you were born after the mid 1960s, chances are you have never used the word “queer” as an epithet and it has never been a part of your vernacular. You might use “gay”, “lesbo”,”homo”, “fag”, “dyke”, or some other epithet, but not “queer”. So here we have a woman, reported to be in her 50s, that likes to use the word “queer”, has threatened to burn down the victims’ home, and likes the idea of a dead “queer”.

The Metro Pulse also reports:

That and the other 24 general allegations in the complaint create a stark summation of three people being systematically bullied:

  • “On several occasions, Ms. Millsaps threatened to poison the Stuttes’ dogs…. and one of the Stuttes’ dogs subsequently died, apparently from being poisoned.”
  • “Ms. Millsaps on several occasions came onto the Stuttes’ property without permission, entering their home when they weren’t home, and peering in their windows as the Stuttes watched TV at night.”
  • “Ms. Millsaps has repeatedly threatened the lives of the Stuttes, making statements such as, ‘there’s bodies in these hills that no one will ever find,’… [and] if she killed the Stuttes, saying that the community ‘takes care of things the old-fashioned way, the Millsaps way.’”

What now?

It is understandable that a criminal investigation can take some time. From people I have spoken with, it also seems common for an insurance company to take up to two years to settled a claim such as a fire with total loss.

What is unacceptable is the FBI is keeping the Stuttes in the dark. What is even more outrageous is that the insurance company will not pay a dime or help the couple with their expenses. Some may ask why they don’t sue the insurance company. They can. However, if they do, the insurance company will immediately request of a judge to declare they have no liability for payment of damages. The Stuttes would then have to wait for a final judgement from a case that could take years before they realized a penny.

If you want to help the Stutte Family, why not start with putting some pressure on their insurance company? You can call, write, fax, email, or visit American National Property and Casualty using the following information:

American National Property and Casualty
1949 E Sunshine St # 3-103
Springfield, MO 65899-0002

Phone: (417) 887-0220
Fax: (417) 887-1801
Email: (email form)

On this Google Maps business page, links are provided to upload photos or rate the business. I’ve taken the liberty of uploading a photo and rating the business. However, the photo of the Stuttes in front of their burned home was rejected by Google after review.

If you do communicate with American National Property and Casualty, let them know that you are outraged that they would hold a family hostage like this. I’m going to tell them that I am going to do everything in my power to make sure they never get a new customer in Tennessee again, unless they step up to the plate.

I would also ask that whether your gay or straight if you have a policy with American National Property and Casualty that you start looking for quotes with other companies. If you leave American National Property and Casualty let them know why.

Please spread this story to as many of your contacts that you can. Seemingly, the only way to hurt a big company like American National Property Casualty is with public pressure. The Stutte family and others in similar situations can’t make a difference on their own. It is only when the public demands justice that big companies listen.