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Wife of man who killed 2 officers sues St. Pete for destroying her property

Published Jan. 29, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — The widow of a fugitive who killed two police officers before being shot himself is suing the city.

On Tuesday, city attorneys were served with a civil lawsuit filed by Christine Lacy, whose husband Hydra Lacy hid in an attic on Jan. 24, 2011, then shot and killed K-9 Officer Jeff Yaslowitz and Sgt. Tom Baitinger.

Hours after the deadly encounter, then-Mayor Bill Foster ordered the home, already pierced by hundreds of bullets from the shootout, to be demolished. By the next morning, the home at 3734 28th Ave S was a rubble pile.

Christine Lacy wants the city to pay for what was inside, which she estimated had a value of nearly $64,000, according to the lawsuit.

"We waited as long as we could," her attorney, James Wardell, said Tuesday. "There's a statute of limitations. … She always maintained a little hope that Mayor Foster … would actually do something to honor his word."

Wardell is referring to Foster's promise, made in the days after the shooting, that the city would compensate Christine Lacy for her loss.

"The city will make sure she is made whole," he said then.

At the time, authorities had just begun dissecting the tragedy. Hydra Lacy had battered his wife, officials said, and when officers came to look for him that morning, she told them he was hiding in the attic. But scrutiny intensified after a State Attorney's Office report indicated Christine Lacy was not as cooperative with police at first. She was never accused of a crime.

A few months after the shooting, she filed a claim with the city asking for the value of her belongings, which at the time she said totalled a little more than $61,000.

"We've been aware of the claim for some time," Assistant City Attorney Joseph Patner, who is head of litigation for the city, said Tuesday. "We believe there to be defenses and were going to explore those defenses. … We have no comment beyond that."

Wardell said his client understands the sensitivity around the shooting. According to the lawsuit, as early as last summer, Christine Lacy begged Foster and the city to resolve the issue out of court.

"It has been well over two years since my home was destroyed. All my personal belongings and my car were taken from me in this horrible incident," she wrote in a May 21 letter. "I have asked my lawyer to hold off filing suit in this case out of respect for the families that lost so much more than I."

Christine Lacy ended the letter by asking for a response within two weeks.

Wardell said they got a letter from the city in July, asking for financial records from Christine Lacy, including checking and savings accounts, mortgage payments, income tax records, credit cards or banking transitions.

Foster, who later told reporters his "whole" comment meant only that the city will pay Christine Lacy whatever is required by law — whether that turned out to be her entire claim or nothing at all — could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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Neither could retired police chief Chuck Harmon, who also is named in the lawsuit along with Balboa Insurance Group, a California company that wrote the Lacys' home insurance policy.

Wardell said Christine Lacy tried and failed to recoup her losses through Balboa but was denied in part because of Foster's comments.

Balboa told Christine Lacy her policy didn't cover acts by a government and that its investigation "revealed that the city decided to demolish the dwelling after the incident was over, and furthermore, the mayor has advised that the city will reimburse the borrower for the demolition and repair costs," according to the lawsuit.

According to a list she provided to the city, Christine Lacy would like reimbursement for everything from hundred-dollar purses to a blanket her grandmother made to a car that was crushed.

Wardell said the city has never offered to pay anything to settle the claim.

"I think (Foster) probably did mean to keep his word. I just think the city refused to honor that," he said. "They're not giving any reason. They're just saying they're not paying."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com, (727) 893-8643 or @cornandpotatoes on Twitter.


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