SWAT arrests Fort Collins man over barking dog dispute
08 June 2012

What began in 2009 as a dispute over a pair of barking dogs escalated into a vicious neighborhood battle that saw one Fort Collins man arrested at gunpoint by the SWAT team Thursday night as he wandered his yard with a loaded handgun.

Now, Neil Brooks, 48, is jailed and effectively barred from living in his own home because a magistrate on Friday deemed him too great a threat to his neighbors, with whom he has clashed about landscaping, offensive gestures, rude emails, anonymous notes and allegations of secret city mediation sessions.

“He was wandering around his yard with the handgun in his hand. The neighbors were feeling threatened,” Fort Collins police Lt. Hal Dean said. “To them, he appeared ready to use it.”

Dean added: “Given the totality of the circumstances and Mr. Brooks’ behavior over the last few months, we felt that the prudent thing to do was to serve the warrant with the SWAT team. His behavior in the neighborhood has become a little more concerning for the neighbors.”

Brooks, who is medically disabled and struggles to sleep due to chronic eye pain, began complaining about his neighbor’s dogs almost immediately after moving into the upscale West Vine Bungalows neighborhood with his wife in February 2009.

He complained that his neighbors’ two dogs barked all day long while their owners were away. He sent what he called “kindly notes” asking the owners to quiet their dogs. He consulted an animal behaviorist and suggested the dogs’ owners buy bark collars.

He got no satisfaction.

After getting copies of the city’s noise-control ordinances, he called animal control and Fort Collins police, who declined to intervene.

Brooks says he was lied to about the law.

demanded that the HOA enforce its covenants against noisy dogs

He researched homeowners association rules and demanded that the HOA intervene and enforce its covenants against noisy dogs. His neighbors who make up the HOA board declined. They said many of them also owned dogs who sometimes bark.

Brooks says his neighbors circled their wagons to protect their friends from him.

After repeated requests, Brooks agreed to city-run mediation. But the mediator canceled the sessions after meeting with Brooks’ neighbors and apparently concluding he was unwilling to compromise.

Brooks sees a conspiracy there

Brooks says the mediator, who has since left the city, was secretly friends with his neighbors.

Brooks then sued his neighbors and the HOA to try to force them to enforce a covenant against barking dogs. A judge threw out the lawsuit last summer and ordered Brooks to pay $73,000 in legal costs.

Brooks sees a conspiracy there: He believes the judge in the case has some connection through marriage to a builder who also manages HOAs.

Brooks met with several city officials, including Dean, last year. Brooks wanted police to cite his neighbors for their dogs, even though the couple had already sold their house and left the neighborhood early last year.

“The problem was that the neighbors had already moved. The incidents had occurred a year before and the dog had been dead for six months,” Dean said. “When we told him we couldn’t do that ... he wasn’t satisfied. That kind of exasperated him, and things went on from there.”

In a lengthy explanation of the situation that Brooks gave to the Coloradoan earlier this year pleading for news coverage of his plight, he said he and his wife wanted to be good neighbors. He said they tried to be polite in asking their neighbors to curb their dogs’ barking and even sent over a fruit basket when things temporarily got better.

his repeated complaints turned the neighborhood against him

But his repeated complaints turned the neighborhood against him, and Brooks says neighbors have been making rude gestures toward him when they pass. He said one man even tried to run him off the road, and in an email, the HOA board president called him “an insistent and viral complainer that has brought stress and grief to an otherwise beautiful place.”

In a recent complaint to police, West Vine residents said Brooks had taken to sitting outside on his porch, handgun at his side.

“We tried to do everything right, abide by the law and be decent in asking the appropriate people and agencies for help, in a civil and reasonable way. We still can’t believe this happened to us,” Brooks said earlier this year. “We’re prisoners in our own house.”

Brooks is now a prisoner at the Larimer County Jail

Brooks is now a prisoner at the Larimer County Jail, being held on a $10,000 bond on a possible charge of felony menacing. Dean said Brooks’ actions on Thursday, when viewed in combination with his past history, prompted officers to seek an arrest warrant when neighbors called police.

Magistrate Matthew Zehe on Friday afternoon ordered Brooks to remain at least 50 yards from his neighbors, which means he’ll be unable to stay at his home if they are in theirs.

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