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Green Building News

Smart Meter Ado Turns Nasty

Police in Illinois arrest a woman who videoed utility workers installing a smart meter without the homeowner's consent. Now she's suing.

Arrested for filming the installation of a smart meter, a Naperville, Illinois, woman is now suing the city and four of its police officers.

Complaints about a new generation of utility smart meters aren’t unusual, but in Naperville, Illinois, a citizen’s campaign against them has resulted in arrests, a trial, and now a complaint in federal district court against the city and four police officers.

The trouble began when the city began replacing analog utility meters with newer wifi-enabled devices. Malia Bendis and Jennifer Stahl were among those who objected, and they helped launch an opposition group called Naperville Smart Meter Awareness, the website The Blaze reports.

Two years ago, both were arrested after Bendis used her cellphone to make a video recording of the installation of a smart meter at Stahl’s home; the meter was being installed over Stahl’s objections. Bendis was handcuffed and arrested for “attempted eavesdropping,” charges which were later dropped. Bendis was acquitted of a second charge, resisting a peace officer, last October.

Now, Bendis, a 42-year-old mother of three and a part-time nurse practitioner, is suing the affluent Chicago suburb and four police officers, claiming false arrest, the use of excessive force, discrimination, unlawful retaliation, and malicious prosecution. The complaint, filed on January 23, seeks unspecified damages.

Smart meter program challenged in court

According to Bendis’ court complaint, the city of Naperville set aside $22 million in 2010 to install smart meters on homes and businesses under a program called the Naperville Smart Grid Initiative.

Bendis and others opposed the program, citing both financial and health concerns. They founded the opposition group and in late 2011 filed a court complaint to block the installation of meters in instances where people didn’t want them. That case is still pending.

Bendis became an outspoken critic of the program, and eventually the city hired a security company and put her under surveillance, her complaint alleges.

Then, in January 2013, the city council met behind closed doors and voted to arrest Bendis and anyone else “who interfered with their plan to forcibly install the ‘smart meters,'” the complaint says.

The city instructed its workers and police officers “to enter onto the objecting residents’ properties and install the meters, even if they had to force their way onto the residents’ property.” During these “forced installations,” the complain continues, some residents, including Bendis, made audio and video recordings of the installations.

No one was arrested until January 23, 2013 when Bendis and Stahl were both handcuffed and taken into custody.

Eavesdropping law found constitutional

Bendis initially faced two charges: attempted eavesdropping, a misdemeanor, and resisting a peace officer.

Her complaint claims that police knew they couldn’t charge her with eavesdropping, a felony, because the law had been declared unconstitutional. So they chose the “attempted eavesdropping” charge because it could be filed without the approval of a prosecutor. But a county state’s attorney dismissed the charge anyway.

Bendis did go to trial on the “resisting a peace officer” charge and was acquitted by a jury last fall. Charges against Stahl were eventually dropped.

The complaint seeks unspecified punitive damages as well as attorney’s fees.

Contacted by email, City Attorney Jill Pelka-Wilger said she couldn’t comment directly on the lawsuit.

“The City of Naperville continues to focus on our Smart Grid program,” she wrote. “Our program is in line with the national effort to modernize the electronic power grid system. We have installed 58,000 meters and continue to move forward increasing energy efficiency, reducing emissions and lowering electricity consumption costs.”


  1. STEPHEN SHEEHY | | #1

    smart meters, not smart officials
    Personally, I am sceptical about the alleged dangers of smart meters. But the clueless local government officials did just about everything they could to create this lawsuit which, if the alleged facts are accurate, will cost the city a bundle in damages and attorney's fees (if the plaintiffs prevail, the city has to pay their fees, as well as the city's.)

    Had the city officials consulted their lawyer beforehand, this never would have happened.

  2. rjparker | | #2

    Sounds like Naperville has some power hungry leaders and police. Naperville may go the way of Napster into the dumpster.

  3. BJPKC | | #3

    The Dark Side of Naperville
    I likewise think the opposition to smart meters is a bit misplaced, given the evidence to date, but this woman obviously committed no crime. Yet she and her friend were targeted in a secret meeting of the Naperville City Council, which voted to have her arrested. This is beyond the petty abuse of power. It is corrupt and doubtless illegal. In fact, for a legislative body in the United States to behave in this way is sinister.

    I hope she wins her suit and takes the City to the cleaners. And regardless of whether she wins or not, the good people of Naperville should demand the immediate resignation of every council member who participated in the vote (which from what I can gather was all of them). They have proved themselves unfit to govern and unworthy of the public trust.

  4. bigrig | | #4

    Don't be hasty
    Don't be hasty in condemning the city council. The first thing is to verify that they actually made such a decision. ". . . and eventually the city hired a security company and put her under surveillance, her complaint alleges.", ". . . city council met behind closed doors and voted to arrest Bendis and anyone else "who interfered with their plan to forcibly install the 'smart meters,'" the complaint says.". Notice that this is from the lady suing, NOT from public council meeting records. Could it be true? Possibly. Or possibly not, time will tell.

    As to the "forcing themselves" onto property? They were replacing THEIR meters and I am sure that, in order to get electric service, the homeowners signed papers allowing the city to access, maintain and replace their property. I personally would have just given the homeowner the option to not have the upgraded meter and charge them additional "meter reader" fees instead. Although that would probably have to be run through the PUC first.

    What would be interesting is for someone in that area to find out how many of these "concerned citizens" have Wi-Fi routers and cell phones. Like it or not we are exposed everywhere we go. There is one spot I was at recently where I could "see" no less than THIRTY Wi-Fi routers at one time!

  5. STEPHEN SHEEHY | | #5

    She "couldn't comment."
    I laugh when people say that. There is no rule or law prohibiting commenting about a pending case. But you hardly ever hear someone just say "no comment."

  6. BJPKC | | #6

    Response to Nathan Spriegel
    Fair enough. I should not have treated as fact something that is alleged in the suit, especially without reading the complaint in full. That, after all, is what trials are for (and what newspapers and other media -- such as this site -- should be for). Nonetheless, a quick skim of the complaint -- which I intend to read in detail tomorrow -- does not increase my confidence in the integrity of the city council of Naperville, nor in some of its police officers, e.g., the apparent use of a unconstitutional law as justification for the arrest. The grounds for arrest are a matter of public record in the police report, and not merely a matter of self-interested contention on the part of the plaintiff.

    Of course the local utility has a right to come onto the property and install the meter, but that seems beside the point if the allegations in the complaint turn out to be true. On the other hand, further discussion of the legalities would probably take us too far of topic (if I haven't taken us there already).

    Suffice it to say that electric utilities have a job on their hands in jurisdictions where there is resistance to smart meters. I hope utilities and government officials transparently address opponents' concerns with consideration, reason, and evidence, instead of pulling the usual public relations evasions or, worse case scenario, turning the powers of government into private security for the utilities.

    In any case, thank you for moderating my overly-quick judgement.

    P.S. To Stephen Sheehy (Comment #5): Good point. People often hide behind misused modal verbs. "I can't comment" most of the time means, "I will not comment," and people should simply say so if that is what they mean. Just as there is no rule or law prohibiting commenting about a pending case, neither is there a rule or law compelling such comment.

  7. AlanB4 | | #7

    Abuse of power indeed, while
    Abuse of power indeed, while i don't agree smart meters are the evil some people believe they are, responding with force is the wrong solution.
    All those involved should face personal consequences, because its likely they have a fund or insurance that will pay if this lady wins and they face no real consequences for their behaviour, their position of power protects them.
    Whats ironic is that there are simple solutions to problems like these, if a customer doesn't want the meter let them keep their old one, but no time of use pricing (or discounts), they have to pay the peak price for all their electricity since the utility can't determine whats used off peak. Everyone saves face, those who are irrationally afraid have a simple solution and the utility does not lose money. If they want to be very accommodating they could design a device that requires manual checking and bill the homeowner for the man hours required, or charge at the average usage intervals for the rest of the city, the homeowner won't get credit for shifting power to off peak but they are not being charged at full price 24/7.
    Of course power corrupts, why come up with solutions when you can use force, its more satisfying, there are little to no consequences and anyone who disagrees with those in power are considered unworthy of respect.

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