ST. PETERSBURG — Brooke Haigley’s son first spotted the nails in the driveway.
They had just returned from a trip to Home Depot the Sunday after Thanksgiving, a Christmas tree tied to the roof of her boyfriend’s minivan, Haigley told Pinellas County Sheriff’s internal investigators.
Haigley’s son, 8 at the time, paused as he was getting out of the car, then bent down and picked up a nail. The other kids followed, picking up nails scattered in the driveway.
She checked video from surveillance cameras positioned around her St. Petersburg home. In footage from the night before, she saw a man walk up to her driveway, make hand motions as if he was throwing something, then walk away. She recognized him as her neighbor: a Pinellas deputy named Lance Chambers.
She reported the incident to St. Petersburg police and handed over a bag with 19 nails they had collected.
“It was malicious, and it scared me,” Haigley told internal investigators. “If he's capable of doing this, this is the point of no return where I have to say something.”
The Sheriff’s Office opened an internal investigation into the incident, but Chambers, a 23-year veteran of the agency, resigned last month before it was complete. While no one was hurt, and no harm done to the minivan, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the deputy’s conduct was “extremely immature.” What’s more, the sheriff said, he initially lied to St. Petersburg police. He first told them he waved his arms in frustration but didn’t throw anything.
“The whole issue is troubling,” Gualtieri said. “You lie, you’re done.”
Chambers, who resigned Feb. 8, could not be reached for comment. In an internal memo to supervisors, he wrote that he had asked his neighbors to quiet down to no avail and got frustrated.
“I deeply regret my actions,” he wrote. “It was very poor judgement.”
There had been tension between the neighbors since Haigley moved into her home last spring. On Easter weekend, she had organized an egg hunt for the kids, Haigley said, so they were playing outside.
Chambers and his wife came over and introduced themselves, she said, then Chambers told Haigley they were being disruptive. That was the only time they met face-to-face, she said. But over the next several months, he shouted over the fence at her kids.
“He makes a lot of noises over the fence to make sure if we're outside, we know he's there,” she told investigators, “and he's just — he sets his tone. Let's just put it that way.”
On Thanksgiving weekend, Haigley’s boyfriend was over with his two kids. They were all playing outside, hanging by the pool, swinging on the tree swing and kicking around a soccer ball.
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Chambers wrote in his memo that the noise was “very loud” from noon to 5 p.m. that day and that he heard Haigley’s boyfriend shout profanities twice.
The noise was particularly bad on weekends when her boyfriend was over, he wrote. That evening, he went over to the house hoping to talk to Haigley but saw her boyfriend’s van in the driveway.
He had nails in his pocket from yard work earlier in the day, he wrote.
“Due to the level of frustration at the situation,” he wrote, “I made the poor decision to throw them down on their driveway.”
He returned later that night to pick them up, he said, but the lights in the house were on, so he decided against it. He said he was “less than candid” with St. Pete police because he was worried about disappointing his wife, who was home when officers came by to interview him.
Jim Tanner, a lawyer for Haigley, said that since the incident, his client has been living a "day to day 24-hour nightmare."
"When a sworn deputy, in a calculated and premeditated manner surreptitiously throws nails on his neighbor's driveway where she drives her family car and where daily her children walk and play," he said, "this dispels any notion that one can feel safe."
Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.