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Videos Are Weapons in Surf City Feud

Conflict: Huntington condo residents record their frequent run-ins on tape. Police are called almost daily but find peace elusive.

September 01, 2002|STANLEY ALLISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It started a year ago with complaints at the Harbour Vista condominium complex that a man was taking up too many parking spaces.

Then one resident's car was towed. Another had his car's tires slashed and motor oil dumped at his doorstep.

Now, the quiet Huntington Beach development crackles with the tension of a battlefield--and it's all caught on tape. Police are called to the complex almost daily--nearly 150 visits since January--to break up shouting matches.

Homeowners have sought temporary restraining orders against each other. A few have simply moved out. The situation has become so disruptive that real estate agents must disclose the neighborhood battles to potential buyers.

What set this feud apart is the weapon of choice: video cameras. The man at the center of the dispute has 15 cameras mounted inside his windows to record everything that moves outside his home. He carries a minicam and still camera around the complex whenever he leaves his home, frightening neighbors--and their children--who resent being videotaped.

Other neighbors have retaliated with their own video recordings, creating lens-to-lens showdowns in the condo common spaces peppered with cursing and shouting. There is now a library of videotapes--evidence that both sides use to show they are in the right.

"We can't focus on being normal individuals living in a community," said William McCord, the beleaguered president of the homeowners association. "Never in my wildest dreams would I think that I would have to spend 10 to 15 hours a week on this. I don't sleep anymore. It's killing my wife."

It's not illegal to videotape people in public, so authorities said they are powerless to resolve the dispute.

"Basically you have a group of people not getting along, and they're doing everything they can to irritate each other," said Huntington Beach Police Lt. J.B. Hume. "The videos we have seen have been taken to the D.A.'s office, and it was determined that no crime has occurred."

*

John Rogers had four cars. But he's entitled to use only two spaces in his condo complex's parking lot. It's been a touchy subject with neighbors ever since the 37-year-old man and his mother moved in three years ago.

A year ago, the condominium association board confronted Rogers about the problem. Rogers complained he was being singled out and accused neighbors of frequently parking illegally.

The board responded by ordering another neighbor's car towed away. A few days later, Rogers walked outside and noticed that someone had dumped motor oil on his doorstep and slashed his tires.

The incidents left Rogers feeling afraid and alone. And they were brutal reminders of the violence that brought him and his mother to Harbour Vista. Rogers moved into the complex after a man who had been staying with the two stabbed Mary Rogers and slashed his throat, leaving him for dead.

Permanently disabled and unable to work, Rogers hoped to start a new life--and vowed not to become a victim again. So, once trouble started with the neighbors, he looked for a way to document what was happening.

Soon, neighbors noticed Rogers walking around the complex aiming a video camera at them or snapping photographs. Eventually he installed a network of small video cameras inside his windows.

"The videotape became a tool of trying to say, 'Stop it, because I'm documenting this,' " Rogers said. "I'd be dead without it."

His next-door neighbor, Michael Richardson, a 38-year-old warehouse worker, believed Rogers was targeting his family, videotaping him and his young daughters as they left their house.

Other residents began complaining that Rogers taped their children walking to school, getting off the school bus and playing around the complex.

Some suggested that Rogers was using the videotapes for illicit purposes. Richardson said he posted a sign in the complex accusing Rogers of being a pedophile.

Police said they looked into that accusation but found no evidence of wrongdoing.

As the months wore on, the exchanges became increasingly bitter and involved more than a dozen families. Richardson and other neighbors began recording Rogers recording them.

Videotapes shot by Rogers show residents shooing him away, yelling "Get out of here, John." Videotapes shot by other residents show Rogers recording their activities in common areas, yelling "Get away from me" as they approach.

Other videotapes show a ritual between Rogers and Richardson in which they take turns shouting at each other through the security gates of their condos. They also shine powerful flashlights at each other's windows throughout the night. Rogers and Richardson received temporary restraining orders requiring them to stay 100 yards from each other. But the order is difficult to enforce because they live only a few feet apart.

Neighbors took sides, with many faulting Rogers. Mark Rasmussen became so angry at the constant videotaping of his 2-year-old daughter that he started recording Rogers during his visits to the pool.

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