Charles Plancon warned county commissioners that they were making a mistake when they approved a land use change to allow condominiums on the site of the Golden Lantern Mobile Home Park.
Commissioners did not listen and dared Plancon to fight them. He took the dare. And Plancon, with only a GED, beat the county with its highly educated, high-powered attorneys when a state agency sided with him.
Now the county is having to undo its land use decision.
But Plancon feels no pleasure in his victory. He's in prison. He lost his children. He lost his dog. And he lost the mobile home he fought so hard to keep.
"I get my jollies by the fact that no one can build on that lot. I'm responsible. I did win. But at what cost?" Plancon asked recently.
Plancon, 44, a felon and one-time drug addict, had cleaned up his act and bought a mobile home in the Golden Lantern to get custody of his children and give them a place to live. He was content to live in obscurity until 2005, when Golden Lantern residents were told the park, in an unincorporated area on the edge of Pinellas Park, would be sold.
Plancon's mobile home, like most others in the park, was too old and ramshackle to move, and he would have lost his home and most of his investment. He read up on the law and battled to keep his home.
Ironically, the attorney for the developer was his cousin, Tim Johnson, a high-profile lawyer known for winning who has since retired to live the good life in California.
Plancon battled not only Johnson and the County Commission, he also fought his neighbors, many of whom cut a deal with the developer. In exchange for about $18,000 each, they'd sign over their homes. Plancon refused to sign, saying he was standing on the principle of making the county do things correctly. The deal has since fallen through, and 40-plus homeowners, who still live at the park, have sued the developer to enforce the settlement agreement. The case is in the courts.
On Memorial Day 2006, Pinellas Park police arrested Plancon and accused him of carrying a weapon and having drugs. Plancon went to the Pinellas County Jail. His public defender refused to allow him to be interviewed.
The drug charges were dropped, but Plancon pleaded no contest to felony possession of a weapon and carrying a concealed firearm. He was sentenced to three years for each offense, to be served concurrently. He'll be in prison until 2009.
Worry and fear grow
With the case over, Plancon was at last allowed to tell his side of the story. It began when he refused to settle. Plancon said that enraged his neighbors, and he began receiving threats.
He said his children were told, "If your daddy doesn't stop what he's doing, we're going to burn the house. ... I was so worried about the dog, the kids."
The worry and fear grew. Then on Memorial Day 2006, he heard something hit the mobile home. He thought someone had fired a shot.
He got the gun a former girlfriend had left in the mobile home and said he tried to follow a black truck that he thought belonged to the shooter. He thought the truck had turned into the parking lot of Nickel City Bar and Grill, not far from the Golden Lantern at 7950 Park Blvd. He went into the bar to check things out.
"I put the pistol in my pocket. ... (I wanted) to have the ability to defend myself," Plancon said. "I sat down at the bar and had a drink."
After a few drinks, he played foosball with another patron who asked about the bulge in his jacket.
"I said, 'That's a pistol.' That was it in a nutshell," Plancon said.
The police were called, and Plancon was carted away.
One victory is all he has
"I know that being a convicted felon with a firearm is illegal," Plancon said. "I also know that if you're shot and killed, it doesn't matter. I know that if your kids get shot and killed, it doesn't matter. I know if the dog is dead, nothing matters."
While he was in the Pinellas jail, a friend went to his mobile home and saw two paintball dents in the eaves. Plancon said he thinks that's what he heard that day. They would have sounded like shots, he said.
While he was in the jail, he signed over custody of his children to their grandparents. He has not seen them since. He lost his mobile home when he became unable to pay his lot rent after his arrest.
But he does have his win against the county.
"It's all in vain to me," he said. "I don't have my kids. I don't have my dog. I don't have my home. I don't have my freedom. That's too big a price."