Prosecutors announced Monday that they will not pursue trespassing charges against Citrus County code enforcement officers who one landowner says have harassed him by coming onto his land repeatedly for inspections.
In a letter to landowner Scott Adams on Monday, Chief Assistant State Attorney Richard D. Ridgway said there would be no chance of convicting the county employees in a trial and that, "it would be a waste of resources to attempt a criminal prosecution."
It's not that code enforcement officers have any special legal right to trespass, Ridgway said. On the contrary, he said, "Code enforcement officers can be prosecuted for trespass just like anyone else."
But, he said in the letter, the state attorney's office files charges only when convinced that a crime has taken place and when there is a reasonable chance of success in a trial. In this case, while Ridgway said it is "open to debate" whether a crime occurred, he also said he and other prosecutors saw no chance for a conviction.
There were many reasons. One significant point emerged during interviews with county employees, Ridgway said. Jack Korinek, a code enforcement employee, said he drove onto Adams' 150-acre property (off State Road 44 near the Sumter County line) through an open gate to investigate some mounds of dirt he had seen from the road.
Korinek said he did not see Adams' "no trespassing" sign before driving in; if he had, he told the interviewer, he would have taken photographs from the road instead.
The county employees who were interviewed also told prosecutors they have a policy of not opening gates.
"They are afraid of being shot or attacked by dogs," says the interview report. "Their procedure is to leave a card asking the owner to call."
Another problem with trying to prosecute, Ridgway said, is that it would be impossible to show that the intrusions onto Adams' land had caused any harm.
Adams disagrees. He said the visits of code enforcement employees during the past two years have caused severe stress and "screwed up" his family life.
Reached by telephone Monday, Adams called the state attorney's office's decision "a bunch of b-------." He said he thought prosecutors were "covering for politicians and bureaucrats."
Ridgway addressed this suspicion in his letter, saying: "Please understand that this office will take the action we deem appropriate without regard to who is involved."
Ridgway said he understood Adams is frustrated. Since filing a complaint, Adams repeatedly called prosecutors' offices, including 15 times in one day, sent faxes and claimed the case was a matter of "life or death," Ridgway said.
In closing his letter, Ridgway told Adams: "I will be more than glad to talk to you, however, if I perceive the call as becoming abusive or threatening, I will not continue the call."
Adams denied threatening Ridgway or anyone else and said he was merely trying to get them to listen. "It was the truth," he said. "I know what's going on: it's politics."
If prosecutors won't do it, Adams said he will do it himself; he said he planned to pursue legal action on his own.