Dangerous neighbor harassing my family. What can I do?
February 18, 2014 11:15 AM   Subscribe

Dangerous neighbor harassing my family. What can I do? This has been going on for almost 15 years now, but yesterday the problem resurfaced. My family (mother, sister and her two young children) live next door to a violent man.

He did time in jail years ago. Upon his release, he started working occassionally (gardening, plumbing, etc.) at our spinster neighbor's house. One day he moved in with our neighbor (formerly friend of my family) and for a few months things were ok with us. Then one day he approached my grandmother on the street and verbally assaulted her, demanding that she got rid of her cat because, in his view, the animal had ruined his garden. In order to appease him, my grandmother sent the cat to another house. A few months later, said neighbor grabbed my (then 12 year old) brother by the arm when he was walking back home from school and threatened him. He said that my brother should stop making noise in the afternoons while my neighbor was sleeping, or otherwise he would regret it. My brother was a quiet boy, very unlikely to produce noises which could be considered disruptive. A couple of weeks after that he approached my mother and told her-in his characteristic bullying style-to have a tree in our garden removed because it was-in his opinion-a fire hazard. The tree looked fine and healthy, but just in case, my mother called the relevant city authority to have the tree checked. They sent an engineer who had a look at the tree, said it was perfectly safe and consequently there was no need to remove it. There were a couple of other similar incidents throughout the years. In addition, we often heard rowdy exchanges of insults between this neighbor and apparent unsatisfied angry clients (he has a makeshift bike repair garage in his house), and at least with one woman who screamed and threatened to have him locked up.

Two years ago my then 6 year old niece was playing with a friend in the garden, the neighbor suddenly emerged from across the hedge and verbally abused the two girls, threatening "to teach them a lesson if they didnĀ“t learn to behave themselves and be quiet". An adult friend of the family tried to intervene and this neighbor threatened to punch him. That time my sister went to the police and filed a report. The cops offered to go and talk to the neighbor, but my sister thought that would escalate the conflict and declined the offer.

I am visiting my family for a few days, I live and work in another state. Yesterday as I was leaving home, the neighbor approached me and told me his patience was running short on the tree affair, that it could collapse at any minute and he would not tolerate that. I told him the matter had already been assessed by a specialist sent by the local authorities, and that the tree was fine. He got very upset by my reply and started yelling "Those assholes don't know shit!", I turned round and left him yelling alone. I'm not sure how to proceed. I am tempted to confront him and tell him that a report has been filed with the police concerning the threat against my niece, and that he'd better stop messing with my family if he doesn't want to go to jail again. On the other hand, I know that given the violent nature of this person, his reaction may be unpredictable and unpleasant, which is of special concern as I am leaving the state in a few days and won't be here to help if things get nasty.

What can I do to make my family safer?
posted by Basque13 to Human Relations (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not clear why your sister didn't want the police involved. It's not like this guy gets calmer when he's got free rein. I think she should rethink that. He's threatened her children and the rest of her family. Also, if a protective order can be gotten, I would try for one of those as well.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:20 AM on February 18, 2014 [30 favorites]

It's not your place to escalate this. He sounds unpleasant, but you don't have to live next door to him, and if your relatives who live there don't feel comfortable going to the police or threatening the man personally, you absolutely need to respect their wishes and keep out of this completely. You're not the one who will suffer any consequences if he does get in trouble with the police and then retaliates - you're presumably going back home and will leave your family there alone to deal with what you've set in motion.

No, it isn't right that this man treats people the way he does. Yes, he sounds scary. But this is not your fight.
posted by something something at 11:21 AM on February 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

I would call the police every. single. time. He grabbed your brother by the arm. It doesn't matter if your brother is a quiet kid or the neighborhood shit, strangers don't get to grab and threaten children. Period.

This is way past the point where police should be involved. Please get the police involved.
posted by phunniemee at 11:22 AM on February 18, 2014 [63 favorites]

Have an attorney send the owner of the home a letter confirming that the tree is fine and healthy and that it will not be cut down. Send it certified mail.

Additionally, in the letter, have the attorney suggest, "If anyone in your home has any issues with the Basque family, please put them in writing as the family is afraid of the gentlemen who continuously accosts them."

So this guy is loud and threatening. Has he ever done anything actually violent to your family? Not as yet.

I'd be leary of him too, but not so afraid that I wouldn't stand up to the bully.

But this needs to come from your family member and not you. If they don't want to deal with him, then they can continue to do what they do.

Surveilance cameras would be prudent and they're pretty inexpensive.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:23 AM on February 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

He's grabbing your brother's arm when he's 12, and verbally abusing 6 year old kids?

Police. Now. And a restraining order. Call the non emergency line now to get info, and when he acts up and gets abusive? Call them every time. And if he touches another relative again without consent? 911.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:24 AM on February 18, 2014 [21 favorites]

Police. And while you think it may be satisfying to go confront him, stop feeding it. Nobody should be engaging with him unless they are law enforcement or lawyers. Stop making it worse.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:25 AM on February 18, 2014 [12 favorites]

I agree, the police should have been involved a lot time ago.

Do not try to reason or engage with crazy, especially violent and crazy.
posted by inertia at 11:27 AM on February 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

N'thing they should immediately call the police, every single time for every single incident.

One big thing to remember about bullies: backing down, as your family has done over and over, does not mean the bully stops: it just means they'll push even harder next time, because now they know they can get away with it. Getting rid of the cat led to grabbing the 12-year-old which led to ordering your mother to cut down a tree on her property to yelling at little kids minding their own business in their own yard and threatening to punch people (!) and now to yelling at your mother's visitors (you).

Example: you were wrong to bother engaging in a conversation with this jerk about the tree, but you were right to just walk away..... a better response would have been a blunt 'No' followed by walking away when he started in on you about the tree.

And if your mother doesn't already have one, get the tallest, solidest fence their town permits installed on that side of her property, all the way along the joint property line.

And call the cops, every time --- that's what they're there for.
posted by easily confused at 11:56 AM on February 18, 2014 [14 favorites]

I'm not sure how to proceed. I am tempted to confront him and tell him that a report has been filed with the police concerning the threat against my niece, and that he'd better stop messing with my family if he doesn't want to go to jail again.

Do not lie to him about filing a police report. If you want to act on his threat against your niece, go to the police, but I seriously question whether they would even open a report two years after the fact (statutes of limitation on assault are commonly 1-2 years). I doubt this guy even remembers threatening her two years ago, and it will only incite him if you bring it up again.

Work with your family on this. They need to work out an approach for what he does going forward, not whatever he's done in the distant past. They could tell him that under no circumstances is he to speak to the children, for example; if he has any issues with them, he needs to bring it directly to your mother or sister. If he tries to bring up the tree again, tell him directly, "We will not discuss the tree issue with you again. Goodbye." Whatever you do, it has to be a course of action that your family will be comfortable sticking to, for the reasons something something stated.
posted by payoto at 12:18 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Grabbing anyone's arm is considered assault and he could have (still can if there were witnesses and time has not run out?) go to jail for that.

Entering private property to harass 6 year olds is trespassing, and probably more.


YES - a lawyer needs to represent your family with the police and with the owner of the house next door.

An order of protection is warranted, a report for anything criminal that can cause this man to be arrested, and the police need to be called whenever this man so much as breathes towards your family's property.

Your family needs to improve the security in and around their home until this man moves out and moves on.

It's unconscionable that he has been allowed to threaten the minor members of your family and your family needs to take concrete steps. Immediately.

Can your family move? Because that is likely easier and safer than reporting this guy....

I dunno. Maybe you could sue the next door neighbor for damages since she voluntarily houses this lunatic??


You need to know all of your options. You need representation so that the police respond appropriately.

Get your family a lawyer if you want to help them, that, and take steps to improve security and safety of their home and vehicles while this gets sorted out.

Btw, what jurisdiction are you in?
posted by jbenben at 12:18 PM on February 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Please ignore my first paragraph as I missed that your sister did file a report at the time of the incident. I would still advise you not to mention that fact to the neighbor, though, certainly not without your sister's blessing.
posted by payoto at 12:28 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

A restraining order is only a piece of paper, by all means get one, but it won't stop him if he is intent on harm. If there is an imminent threat of danger the family needs to remove themselves or him from the situation.
posted by TheAdamist at 12:30 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Police. The police are training to deal with violent people. You niece and brother are not equipped to deal with this man.

Before things escalate further, it's a good time to get to know your neighbor patrol officers.
posted by 26.2 at 12:30 PM on February 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Does your family still speak to the lady he moved in with? Judging by their experiences, maybe he pushed / bullied his way in there too? It might be worth reaching out to her, especially if she is older or perhaps vulnerable in some way.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 12:42 PM on February 18, 2014 [10 favorites]

Call the police's non-emergency number or -- better, in my opinion -- go to the police station and ask them what to do. This sort of thing is exactly what police are supposed to be for.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:08 PM on February 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

There should be a community liason officer at the local PD. Have a discussion with that officer. Fighty neighbor may very well be on parole. A conversation with a patrol officer or two may be enough to subdue him from making contact with your family members.

Fighty neighbor has no grounds to get upset over the tree - as he does not own the neighboring property (or does he? check with your local county assessor. Maybe he got the actual owner to add him to the deed?). I wouldn't go to the trouble of getting a letter from a lawyer on that score, you've had the tree looked at. If he gets fighty about it, you can tell him to tell the neighbor/actual owner of the property to have her lawyer send you a letter.

Try to check in with the elderly neighbor. Why is this crazy guy living with her? Is she afraid of him? Is she in fear for her safety if she tries to kick him out? Does she have no other relatives or support system? She may be in need of help and have no idea what to do. Since she and your family were formerly friends, maybe it's time for them to reinstate the friendship.

Best of luck to your family. I know we can't choose our neighbors, but we don't have to be held hostage by them either. I know it's a scary situation, and my first instinct would be to avoid / de-escalate too, but I say this with the best possible meaning and no judgement - I hope they are able to find the courage to stand up to this bully.
posted by vignettist at 1:11 PM on February 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Extra thought: this jerk keeps insisting your mother's tree, on your mother's property, be cut down because "it's a fire hazard"......

1. Make sure to good care of the documentation from the city engineer who said the tree was fine and healthy;
2. If the tree ever does burn down? Get an arson investigator, because I could see this guy setting it on fire; and
3. If the tree is on the same side of the yard as the house he is living in, perhaps his real reason for wanting it removed is so he can spy on your family better: make sure there are good, opaque curtains on every window on that side of your house.
posted by easily confused at 1:17 PM on February 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

Wait - he was in jail? Maybe he's still on probation.

If so, I'm sure his PO would love to learn about this harassment.
posted by spinifex23 at 2:15 PM on February 18, 2014 [8 favorites]

I have problem neighbors. They are a "known" house in the neighborhood (mainly due to the teenager who lives there and the many other kids who always seem to be there). It was a real relief to me to know that the police are well aware of them and have a community officer assigned to them. After some nuisance behavior from them, I was given the community officer's name by another neighbor and called and had a long talk with her. She has an ongoing dialogue with the family and is also in touch with the PO of the teenager. She encouraged me to let her know if I had any other problems and said she would be willing to talk to the PO or call/visit the family if there were any other issues. She knows the family pretty well by now and was able to give me good advice on what she knows about the family and how to proceed (e.g. is the one parent in the house reasonable and amenable to talking to me, are the kids who hang around there all the time known for violence, etc). Because it was the first time I'd spoken to her, she left it up to me if I wanted her to intervene on my behalf for the (minor) offending behavior. I declined as I had already said something to them directly and wanted to give it a chance to improve on its own. Thankfully, I haven't had problems since but as summer approaches, I'm a little worried that the problems might start up again so I'm keeping a close eye on things.

Your neighbor sounds more aggressive than mine have been (to me anyway), but my point is, the police may already know about them (one of my other neighbors has a restraining order on the problem neighbors - I had no idea) and if they don't, someone should make them aware every single time so there is a documented history of harassment. Even if the police don't already know about them, if anyone complains about this guy in the future, your records of problems will help the next person. If you are concerned about retaliation if he finds out you reported him, tell them that. Hopefully the police will be able to intervene on your behalf but in any event will be able to advise you on the best course of action to keep your family safe. Good luck.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:10 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your family should inquire about an order of protection. Document everything. If he is making threats, then this is the type of thing that a restraining order is made for. Additionally, if he is on parole or probation, having an order of protection against him is likely going to get the attention of those in charge of supervising him. And if he lays a finger on anyone, call the police immediately.
posted by azpenguin at 10:47 PM on February 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

A restraining or-given the fact that he lives next door-a no direct contact order from a judge sounds to me like a good solution at this point. I hope we can find a decent lawyer and a cooperative court to go ahead with this...
Thanks for all the contributions.
posted by Basque13 at 7:08 PM on February 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

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