GOODLAND — He was called the neighborhood bully.
For years, Richard "Blinkie" Karnes of Goodland, near Naples, taunted his neighbors, cursed at them, antagonized children, sprayed chemicals on a senior citizen, ran over a handyman and threatened to kill neighbors with a gun or by tossing them in the canal, the neighbors say. Five of them obtained restraining orders to protect themselves, but they say it didn't stop his foul mouth, harassment or attacks. So some of them sued.
Last week, a Collier County circuit court jury awarded $1,654,000 to Leo and Anna Poupour, Christopher Kohlmeyer, Jay McMillen and his business, All Marine Services, agreeing the neighbors had been assaulted and defamed, and suffered from emotional distress.
"We're hoping it's over," said 74-year-old Anna Popour, who moved to Goodland in 1999 with her retired firefighter husband, Leo, expecting a quiet, waterfront retreat in a friendly fishing village. "The best thing is they validated what we went through.
"There was no way to stop him. That's the reason we filed the lawsuit," she said of the 2007 lawsuit that came to trial years later. "It was escalating. We couldn't take it anymore."
Leo Popour, 74, said Collier sheriff's deputies and arrests had no effect on Karnes, who sprayed Popour with chemicals and threatened him or to "do something bad" to his home.
"I had to buy a gun. Why?" Leo Popour asked. "To defend my wife and myself."
The verdict came after jurors heard eight plaintiffs' witnesses during a two-day trial before Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt, who denied Richard and Lisa Karnes' attempts to delay the trial.
Jurors agreed the 52-year-old Karnes committed assaults and batteries, inflicted emotional distress, exposed neighbors to ridicule and contempt, and defamed them with curses, sexual accusations and rumors of sexual diseases and preferences.
Contacted by phone Tuesday, Karnes, who went through three lawyers before representing himself and his wife at last week's trial, wouldn't say why he didn't present any witnesses or evidence. He built his case through cross-examination of witnesses and closing arguments.
"I desperately want to talk," Karnes said Tuesday. "Can I? I don't think I can right now. … We're looking at our options."
But he pointed out he'd denied the allegations in his answer to the lawsuit and affirmative defenses and maintained he was the victim, that his neighbors violated laws and the judicial system was on their side.
Attorney Jon Parrish of Naples said Karnes developed a reputation for his actions and set up the security cameras to spy on neighbors, to see when they were outside. Deputies were repeatedly called, Parrish said, but often did nothing, saying it was the neighbors' word against Karnes'.
"This is like a bully on the playground who hasn't grown up. He thinks he can ruin everybody's life," Parrish said.