ST. PETE BEACH — A pair of noisy parrots led a resident, angry about how police investigated his complaints, to file a $1-million lawsuit against the city.
Terry Richards, 59, acting as his own attorney, filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court on Dec. 23, accusing the city and its Police Department of negligence for "breach of duty," libel and violating his civil rights.
He wants the court to grant or send to trial his demand for four separate awards of $250,000 in damages, and to order the Police Department to change its official reports to reflect the "truth."
The 40-page lawsuit and accompanying documentary evidence describes how a dispute with a neighbor escalated to a point where Richards thinks the city has violated his constitutional rights.
"Mr. Richards has been unhappy with the way we documented the incident reports," acknowledged St. Pete Beach police Chief David Romine.
Incident reports routinely include a narrative detailing all interviews and do not indicate whether or not truthful statements are made by witnesses.
Romine said his department offered Richards an opportunity to attach his version of events to the official police reports. He did so, but apparently that was not enough.
Richards wants the police record expunged of statements by his neighbors that he says are defamatory to his character.
He is a Vietnam-era veteran who has championed veterans' causes since 1990. He is disabled and says the incidents with his neighbor's "annoying and disturbing" parrots and the subsequent police investigation have worsened his health.
Richards says his problems began in August when his neighbors moved in with eight exotic birds, including two parrots that he says emit "up to 140 decibels of ear-deafening noise" when they are allowed in the back yard.
That level is similar to a jumbo jet, according to Richards, and has damaged his eardrums and caused "pain and discomfort."
The other birds, he said, make a "twittering noise" that "although not ear-deafening, are still very annoying."
Richards said he began complaining to police and city code enforcement in October. In subsequent weeks, he contends, the neighbors harassed him by imitating bird noises and throwing a pebble against his window screen.
He even met personally with Romine to discuss his bird problem.
The lawsuit says investigating police officers intentionally included inaccurate "innuendoes" in their reports and favored the neighbor's version of events.
The result, Richards says, implies that he "committed crimes of moral turpitude" and "lied" to the police.
The police "misrepresented the truth and cast (Richards) in a false light with reckless disregard for the truth," and "libeled and defamed" his "good name and character," Richards wrote in his lawsuit.
He contends that the Police Department's actions have caused him "extreme suffering of body and mind" and have "caused him to be socially isolated and ostracized."
Richards says neither the city nor Romine responded to his requests that the police reports be amended to reflect a "more accurate, complete" and — his word — "un-bias picture of what really occurred."
City Manager Mike Bonfield said the city's insurance company will represent the city in the lawsuit.
As for the parrots, Richards said he has given notice to his landlord that he plans to move in January. He does not know if he wants to remain in St. Pete Beach.