We posed a number of questions in our previous post about a peculiar real-estate deal that wound up causing numerous legal headaches for your humble bloggers. Two Southern staples--football and religion--seem to be at the heart of the matter.
And there is an interesting juxtaposition between Hoover High School's search for a new coach in 1998 and steps Briarwood Christian School took at the same time to evidently keep its successful coach, and perhaps two star players.
So let's take a three-part look at some of the questions we raised yesterday:
The sale of Fred Yancey's house was done in an odd, "under-the-table" way. Consider:
* There was never a for-sale sign in the yard. My wife and I, living next door, never saw any indication that the house was for sale. We had been on good terms with the Yanceys, enjoyed having them as neighbors, and they never said a word to us about moving.
* After the sale, I went back and checked local newspapers for several months prior to the closing date and never saw an ad indicating the house was for sale, either by a real-estate agent or by owner.
* After the sale, I checked with a local real-estate appraiser, and he had no record of the property being listed in the Birmingham-area MLS book, which usually contains all properties listed with an agent.
* Even though the house evidently was not listed, a real-estate agent was involved in the transaction. It was Phyllis Tinsley, then with Prudential South o' Town Realty. She now has her own real-estate company.
* Mike McGarity, his wife, and two kids lived in Cahaba Heights prior to buying Yancey's house and becoming my new next-door neighbors.
* Phyllis Tinsley told my wife that she happened to see a for-sale-by-owner sign at McGarity's house in Cahaba Heights and stopped to talk with him. That, Tinsley said, is how she found a prospective buyer. And how did she find a prospective seller? She happened to be in our neighborhood and knocked on Fred Yancey's door. Lo and behold, he was looking to sell his house! A match was made in heaven! (Note: Do real-estate agents really sell houses this way? I have no idea, but sure doesn't sound like a very efficient way to go about it. And why didn't Ms. Tinsley knock on our door? We were the next house over. Maybe we would have been happy to sell.)
* Fred Yancey coached Briarwood Christian to its first ever state championship on Thursday, December 10, 1998. The McGaritys closed on the purchase of the Yanceys house the following day, Friday, December 11, 1998. The day after that, December 12, 1998, my wife and I saw an unfamiliar dog and man in the backyard at Fred Yancey's house, and the yard had been fenced. We soon would find out that--surprise!--we had a new neighbor. We later would find out that our new neighbor had--surprise!--a significant criminal record.
Why did this real-estate deal occur in this way and at this time? My guess is that some school (Hoover High?) was interested in hiring Fred Yancey. Why would Hoover be so high on Fred Yancey? For one, he had just won a state championship, a pretty good indication that he could coach. Two, Yancey had a star player, Tim Castille, who was just an eighth grader. And Tim had a younger brother, Simeon, who reportedly was even better than he was. (Both Castilles would go on to the University of Alabama, where their father Jeremiah--then a Briarwood assistant--had been a star under Bear Bryant. Tim Castille completed his college career last year. Simeon is currently a starting cornerback for Alabama and is an All-American candidate.)
Let's look at some other educated guesses:
* Did Phyllis Tinsley really just stumble upon Mike McGarity and Fred Yancey? Maybe. But it's interesting that McGarity previously lived in Cahaba Heights. Published reports have stated that Tommy Jackson, an assistant coach at Briarwood, once was very active in youth sports leagues in Cahaba Heights. In fact, my understanding is that Briarwood has drawn a lot of players from Cahaba Heights, which may explain why the football program at Shades Valley High School (the public school for Cahaba Heights at the time) has struggled in recent years. Could Jackson, or someone else associated with Briarwood, have known McGarity was looking to buy a house? Could they have thought of him when the school, in an effort to keep its coach, decided to help sell Yancey's house and have him move on campus?
* According to my sources, Briarwood indeed was intensely involved in the real-estate deal. Someone close to the transaction has said the school was pushing for Yancey to move on campus and to get his house sold--quickly.
* According to public documents, McGarity paid a price for Yancey's house that was hardly a bargain at the time. So was Briarwood able to offer an inducement to make the house more attractive? A source, a former student in Oak Mountain schools, has told me that McGarity's son, Michael McGarity, attended Briarwood for a while. I've not been able to confirm this. I know that Michael McGarity wound up at Oak Mountain schools, and I checked with Shelby County officials to see about dates he was enrolled. Federal privacy law prohibits the release of much student information. But enrollment dates are public information and can be released, unless a student or parent has signed a form specifically stating that such information is not to be released. Shelby County officials never said such a form had been signed by the McGaritys, but the officials refused to release the information. I find it curious that Shelby County officials refused to release such innocuous public information. If an employer contacts Shelby schools wanting to verify enrollment dates of a potential employee, I guess the employer is out of luck. Would admission for your child to a private school be a serious inducement to help make a real-estate deal go through? I suspect many parents would find that attractive. If McGarity's son did go to Briarwood for a while, why did he not stay there?
* I've known a few football coaches in my time. Few events in their lives are bigger than playing in a state-championship game. So here you have Fred Yancey, partaking in this huge event on Thursday, and the very next day, he takes on another huge event--the closing on the sale of his house? I don't see that happening unless something extraordinary was going on. My guess? Briarwood was not going to be comfortable about keeping Yancey until they had him moved into the school's house on campus. And the day after the championship game, the deal was done.
* What can happen when a real-estate deal is rushed through? From firsthand knowledge, I know someone living next door to the property in question can suffer greatly. For example, a survey of the property usually is conducted prior to the sale and generally is presented at closing. This is done to ensure there are no encumbrances on the property and is supposed to protect both the buyer and the mortgage company. It also protects people who live near the property. I've seen no evidence that a survey was conducted on the Yancey property prior to sale. During discovery of the civil case, I asked for a copy of McGarity's survey, and he presented an old one, from when the Yanceys bought the house. I can only assume he didn't have one from his purchase of the house because one wasn't done. And that probably explains how his fence got on our yard. If his property had been surveyed and staked out as it should have been, I see no way the fence mistake could have happened. Also, most intelligent home buyers make sure the house is inspected prior to the purchase. Again, I asked in discovery for a copy of McGarity's home inspection, and he did not present one. That appears to mean that he didn't have one done. Were there problems with the Yancey house that might have been caught with a home inspection? I know of at least one. The house, as I understand it, has a history of water coming in the basement during and after heavy rains. While the Yanceys lived there, they had a B-Dry waterproofing system installed. I believe this involves installing a drain that diverts water away from the basement. You can see the drain hole near one of McGarity's garage doors. Do B-Dry systems work? I have no idea. But if I were thinking about buying a house, and the inspection turned up the existence of a B-Dry system, I would have qualms about going through with the purchase. The presence of a B-Dry system, to many would-be buyers, screams, "This house has had water problems!" Not exactly a selling point, I wouldn't think. (By the way, our yard drains extremely well, and some of McGarity's water problems might come from water draining off our yard. I take a certain pleasure in that thought.)
For my wife and me, it's been a "Neighbor From Hell" scene that Hollywood would have trouble dreaming up. I think I've read that the most common neighbor problems involve pets, children, and fences. Our scenario had all that--and much more:
* Max, the barking coonhound mix, was the first problem. I lost track of the number of barking episodes that lasted for 2-3 hours or more. How loud was it? I remember my wife and me trying to have conversations, inside our own home, and just giving up until it stopped. I remember trying to concentrate enough to pay bills--and giving up. I remember being kept awake all night on New Year's morning, 1999. I remember being awakened at about 4 a.m. almost every day when they evidently let the dog out to do his business. And the dog provided the first clue of the kind of person we were dealing with in Mike McGarity. When I called one time to ask if he could do something about the barking dog, his reply (McGarity's, not the dog's) was, "You need to get earplugs." Classy touch. The dog eventually left the premises, I suspect because he either was driving the McGaritys, or other neighbors, crazy. Hope he found a suitable home.
* I've noted the fence that suddenly appeared when McGarity moved in. Once I regained my equilibrium after the dog's exit, I noticed the fence didn't line up with the fence of folks behind us. McGarity already had proven himself to be such an unpleasant sort that I didn't want to raise this issue unless I knew for sure the fence was on our property. So my wife and I paid $200 to have our yard resurveyed. Was the fence on our yard? Yep, and not just a little. It took up 300-400 square feet of our yard. Did McGarity move it? Yep, after a lawyer sent him a letter. Did McGarity reimburse us for the cost of the survey, as demanded in the letter? Nope.
* After taking these steps to build "good will" with us, McGarity decided it would be appropriate for him, other adults, and numerous kids to trespass repeatedly from his front yard to our front yard (an area that we could not fence, under covenants and restrictions of our neighborhood). When I told him verbally to keep himself and his guests off our property, he threatened to sue me for "harassment" and said "we're going to keep on coming." When a lawyer wrote him a letter, explaining criminal trespass law, he trespassed again, on multiple occasions. We finally decided, if our property rights were to mean anything at all, that we would have to act. That led to the criminal trespassing charges against McGarity, the acquittal, the lawsuit against me, mind-boggling judicial corruption, and the blog you are now reading.
* By the way, I talked to two former neighbors of McGarity's in Cahaba Heights. One said the barking dog drove him nuts, to the point that he called sheriff's deputies several times. Another said he experienced trespassing problems similar to what we experienced. What kind of neighbor was McGarity, I asked this guy? "He's a son of a ______," said this fellow. Both said they were thrilled when the McGaritys moved.
* Are those the only problems we've had since acquiring our new neighbor? Gosh, no. I've already mentioned the assault, which happened a little over a year ago. But what's a neighbor problem without a little dose of vandalism? Make that a heavy dose. Let's see if I can remember all the creative ways our house has been vandalized: There were the paint balls, on at least eight to 10 occasions. There were the eggings, on probably a half dozen occasions. There was the attempt to burn down our mailbox. (The box and post were soaked in lighter fluid, and a spent lighter lay in the street. The lighter evidently wouldn't work, which saved our mailbox.) And then there was the lovely night when multiple workmen's tools (which sheriff's deputies told us had been stolen from a home in an adjoining neighborhood) were thrown through our windows, breaking screens and shattering glass. When my wife got up to check on the commotion, she stepped in broken glass. It's a miracle she didn't suffer a serious cut on her foot. Oh, and let's not forget what probably would almost amount to stalking and/or reckless endangerment. McGarity himself has followed my wife and/or me in his vehicle numerous times. Neighborhood buddies of his have followed us while we walked our dog. One swerved her (yes, I said her!) vehicle toward Murphy (our miniature schnauzer) and me one evening as we walked. I guess this mother of two found that amusing. Would she find it amusing if I swerved my vehicle like that toward her kids, or her dog? I don't think so.
* About a dozen neighbors signed a letter prior to the criminal trial saying they considered Mike McGarity to be a wonderful neighbor and that my wife and I were abusing the justice system by seeking his prosecution on criminal-trespass charges. We have a copy of the letter, which we received during the course of discovery in the civil case. Evidently, McGarity's attorney, William E. Swatek, had a copy. What was the purpose of the letter? Well, it was addressed to Judge Ron Jackson, who "presided" over the criminal case, so I can only assume it was presented to him. Is this a slight violation of criminal procedure? Yes. Did the letter amount to defamation by these neighbors? Yes. Were these neighbors--I think there were six households out of about 150 houses in our neighborhood--aware of Mike McGarity's criminal record at the time they signed the letter? Did they know he has convictions for sex- and violence-related offenses in his background? I doubt it. Would they consider him a wonderful neighbor if they knew about that? I doubt it.
* Speaking of McGarity's criminal record, I doubt Hollywood could dream that up. When my wife said something didn't seem right upon meeting our new neighbor, little did I know how right she would prove to be. Upon being sued, I checked into McGarity's background--and it ain't pretty. It's a frightening case of family dysfunction. The short story: He is one of four brothers, and all of them have had significant problems with the law. Two of them died young, under unusual circumstances. And our "soccer dad" himself? I know of at least eight criminal convictions on his record, including a sex-related offense and a violence-related offense. And his record is not the worst in the family. Another brother has been arrested on more stuff than I can remember, including burglary, theft, and felony drug charges. In fact, this brother faced theft charges once in Shelby County. His attorney in that case? William E. Swatek. Did Mike McGarity call on Swatek at the suggestion of his career-criminal brother? I think you can count on it.
* While my wife and I certainly have not been pleased about the aftermath of this hurried real-estate deal, we have wondered if Mike McGarity also was less-than-thrilled about something. Was he caught off guard by the presence of a B-Dry system and the indication that the house had a water problem in its past? Were some promises made during a rush-rush closing that were not kept, at least in his mind? If McGarity's son was enrolled at Briarwood, did something happen to cause that deal to blow up, leaving us with a neighbor who was even more bitter than he appears to be even under normal circumstances? Did McGarity initially seek a lawyer with the idea of pursuing a case, perhaps a legitimate one, against someone connected to Briarwood? Was his attention diverted to suing me, for a case he definitely did not have, as a way to protect Briarwood from some legal--and financial--unpleasantness?
I will go into much more detail later about all of these events and personalities and the resulting legal mess. But this gives you an idea of what can happen when a "Neighbor From Hell" enters your life. And how it can escalate when people in authority take actions to make a problem worse, rather than simply applying the law.