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NEIGHBORS' FEUD SET TO SOUND

A man recorded his neighbors out of "reasonable fear." The state says that's felony eavesdropping.

The Smith family was under surveillance. Every day. Every time they stepped outside their house.

"We feel very violated and afraid," said Carol Smith, speaking for her husband, Terry, and their children.

The source of their fear is Timothy Dederick, with whom they had a long-running dispute over a fence on the boundary between their two properties on Evergreen Drive.

Dederick installed a sophisticated video and audio surveillance system with at least six cameras pointed right at the Smiths' home, authorities said in an affidavit.

The Smiths' fears grew when they found out that Dederick wasn't just watching them.

He was also listening to and recording their conversations.

When Dederick did that, authorities say, he committed a felony.

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The feud began about three years ago when Dederick sued the couple, alleging their fence was on his property and that they continually antagonized him.

The Smiths countered then that the allegations were fabricated and said it was actually Dederick who was harassing them.

The civil suit was settled in June after mediation.

The parties agreed to abide by a new property survey, which showed the Smiths' fence was encroaching on Dederick's property, said Dederick's attorney in that matter, Bryan Kutchins.

The Smiths took down their fence and Dederick agreed to remove some of his cameras.

The audio recordings came to light during the civil proceedings.

"They had no knowledge of it," said Bob Persante, an attorney for the Smiths. Dederick "did not obtain their consent or the consent of any passers-by or anyone who stopped by the house."

Persante took the recordings to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Now Dederick is being charged with stalking and interception of wire, oral or electronic communications, a felony.

The latter charge comes under a state statute that says, in part, it's illegal to record people who have a reasonable expectation of privacy without their knowledge and permission.

Patrick Calcutt, Dederick's attorney in the criminal case, said his client was merely trying to document the verbal harassment he said was directed at him by the Smiths.

"I have seen some video which eventually the State Attorney's Office will see that shows trespass and harassment ... on the part of the neighbors that would have placed Tim in a reasonable fear for his safety and security and make him take these types of security steps," he said.

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In an affidavit, a sheriff's deputy said he reviewed the audio recordings and heard conversations between Terry and Carol Smith while they were taking out the trash. He also heard Carol Smith talking to her teenage daughter and her parents.

The deputy said he saw six cameras on Dederick's property "that were all directed toward the Smith home."

The near-constant surveillance has "been horrendous" for the Smiths, their 21-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter, Persante said.

Perante's associate, Zack Zuroweste, said at least one of the audio recordings contains sounds from inside the Smiths' garage.

Persante said he had no knowledge of any video that would make Dederick fearful.

"We have not seen anything that documents that," he said. "If he's referring to something, it must mean there is additional audio and videotape that we haven't seen."

Calcutt said he knows of no other cases in Florida where a person has been prosecuted under the statute when the matter is related to a home security system.

"I've been practicing (law) for almost 20 years and I've never seen this prosecuted," Calcutt said.

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In his deposition in the civil suit, Dederick said he had spent about $4,000 on his security system, including three "boundary condenser microphone" listening devices. He said he listened to and recorded audio at various times between April 2008 and April 2009.

Dederick said he sometimes kept an eye on his video surveillance system remotely - on his cell phone - from his car and at a Chili's restaurant, though he could not access the audio remotely.

Jimmy Rueli, 31, who lives across the street, said Dederick also has a camera pointed toward his house.

"He's just a jerk," Rueli said.

The Smiths "have been here since I've been here. They're very nice people. They have a beautiful family," he said.

Neighbor Chris Tauchnitz, 41, has lived on the block for a decade. Dederick comes across as "squirrelly" for his unusual behavior, he said. The Smiths have been kind and generous neighbors, Tauchnitz said.

"I don't know anybody in the neighborhood who has a cross word to say about them," he said.

Kutchins, Dederick's attorney in the civil suit, said his client is being "wrongly accused."

"He's one of the finest men I know," Kutchins said. "He's one of the kindest men I know."

Carol Smith said the constant surveillance has taken its toll on her family.

"It's in the hands of the state attorney,'' she said, "and we hope and pray they can bring it to an end."

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

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