Kent Ford (not his real name) had never been arrested. Never been in trouble. Nada. Kent retired from up north to Port St. Lucie with his bride of many years. Life was good. Back during the great land boom, they bought an investment property in a gated community in St. Lucie West. The hope for a quick profit vanished when the boom went bust, the investment home went into foreclosure, and Kent’s bride got cancer and died.
In August, 2012, Kent was to meet the realtor at the “investment home”. The bank was considering a short sale, but wanted Kent to pay additional money above and beyond the short sale. Times were really bad, but were about to get worse.
The homeowner’s association (HOA) saw fit to revoke Kent’s pass code to the security gate, because its fees were in arrears. He first learned this as he was trying to enter the meet with the buyer and realtor for the short sale. Kent thought about following another car as it went through the entry gate, but reckoned, correctly, that there wasn’t enough time for two cars to make it through. Then he thought he could make it in through the exit gate. He waited for a car to leave, then tried to enter. He failed to notice a second “lift” gate. As he stopped for the lift gate, the swing gate closed. It struck his side mirror with enough force to break the glass, then automatically reopened.
Kent went back to the call phone to try to reach someone to get in. The exit gate continued to open and close with no problem. His car suffered no damage other than the broken glass in the side mirror. It occurred to him that the HOA was going to be paid in full from the short sale. Maybe the HOA was trying to obstruct the short sale on purpose. Maybe someone was hoping to get the home for even less money if the short sale fell through. It was just a momentary reflection. No, why would they?
The first police officer to arrive asked Ken if he had been in a “crash”. Kent denied it, because there appeared to be no damage to the gate. A second police officer called Kent at home. He told Kent to return to the entrance to the gated community. He charged Kent with leaving the scene of an accident with property damage.
Kent hired Attorney Garland the next day. At Garland’s request, Kent went back and took photos and video of the exit gate. The pictures showed the gate to be in perfect working order.
At the first docket call, Garland complained to County Judge Phillip J. Yacucci that the State had failed to provide a copy of surveillance video and evidence of any damage. Judge Yacucci ordered the State to produce such evidence by Friday, three days later.
The State did provide surveillance video which showed the impact to be minimal. It also showed that the gate continued to function perfectly well after the incident, just as it had before. No surprise there, because automatic gates, doors and garages are designed to reopen if they encounter resistance.
The State still insisted there was damage to the gate. In fact, the State advised that the homeowner’s association had paid $1,000.00 to repair the supposed damage. The State listed additional witnesses who were supposedly going to testify about the damage. Garland told the prosecutor that the claimed $1,000.00 repair was preposterous. Really, an HOA is going to pay $1,000.00 to repair a gate without so much as an invoice. No jury would fall for that.
The issue in this case concerned the existence of damage to the gate. If the gate was not damaged by the brief and minor impact, then the case should be dropped. If there was demonstrable damage to the gate, then Kent should have given personal and insurance information before leaving.
Kent had had enough. He wasn’t going to take any more crap from cops who don’t know their job or lying HOA thugs. At the next docket call, Kent would demand to go to trial.
On the morning of jury selection, the sheepish prosecutor confessed that the HOA didn’t really pay anyone to fix the gate, and that there was no evidence of damage to the gate. The prosecutor did the right thing and announced that the charge was dropped.
Police should know the law before making an arrest. Maybe they did…and maybe they didn’t. The police could have just looked at the gate and seen no damage. On the other hand, the HOA representatives may have told the police a whopper about $1,000.00 worth of damage. Obviously, there was no damage, and somebody lied. Kent had to hire a lawyer and nearly go to trial to clear his name. That’s justice. Why haven’t the busybody cops seen fit to charge the HOA thugs with making a false report, obstruction or perjury? If Kent had had his way, the HOA would not have received one thin dime from the short sale proceeds.