‘Extremely Disturbing’ behavior
Ex-LAPD officer could face jail time in racial feud with Altadena neighbors
By Andre Coleman 08/30/2007
"Obsessive" and "extremely disturbing" are two of the ways Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Coleman Swart described the behavior of Irsie Henry, a disgraced former LAPD officer who lost his job and may be headed to jail due to an ongoing racially charged feud with his neighbors in Altadena.
Henry, who is African American, has been accused by a number of his neighbors over the past several years of harassing them, primarily because they are members of mixed-race couples, a dislike of Henry's that they say he has made plain on a number of occasions.
Henry was dismissed from the LAPD two years ago after officials started taking his neighbors -- who had complained for years prior about Henry's behavior -- seriously.
On Monday, Swart found an emotionally distraught Henry guilty of two counts of contempt of court for violating a restraining order. Henry, said his Laurel Street neighbors John and Mellaine Hamilton, slashed two tarpaulin sheets that they had installed to avoid confrontation with the former officer, who allegedly had previously thrown cigarette butts over a fence into their backyard. John is white. Mellaine is black.
"Whoever cut that tarp was angry and had a grudge. No one else has an axe to grind," Swart said. "Out of the people that live in both residences, [Henry's] the only one that smokes. And it wasn't somebody just coming in off the streets cutting these tarps. I find [Henry's] behavior to be extremely disturbing and very obsessive. His credibility is almost nonexistent."
On Oct. 1, the day before Henry could be sentenced to up to 10 days in jail, he will face a pre-trial hearing on one count of illegally using pepper spray, a misdemeanor assault. In January, Henry was arrested outside the Pasadena courthouse after presenting to the court a videotape that showed him spraying John Hamilton with pepper spray during a verbal confrontation in Hamilton's front yard. Henry was apparently under the belief that the tape he entered as evidence would portray him as a victim.
In addition to those cases, Altadena Sheriff's deputies interviewed the Hamiltons' 12-year-old daughter on Aug. 24. According to the child and a neighbor, Crystal Nerone, Henry stood on his balcony flicking his tongue and simulating oral sex toward the pre-teen last May.
If convicted in those cases, Henry could face another two years in jail. As Swart read the decision Monday afternoon, Henry, who has maintained his innocence, put his hand over his face and appeared to be crying.
"I was very surprised by the judge's ruling because it is an ongoing dispute between both parties," said Henry's wife, Sharon. Sharon Henry said she filed a report with the Sheriff's Department in May, claiming the couple's sliding glass door was broken by a rock that came from the direction of the Hamilton's home.
"They have the audacity to point out someone violating a restraining order, and yet they have loud parties," she said. "We don't want the tarp down, just like they don't want to see us. We don't want to see them either."
The hearing began with Swart granting Henry's request to only allow evidence regarding the violation of the restraining order, which has been in place since May. Henry then called a postal worker who delivered mail to both homes as a witness. But those observations occurred before May and the issuance of the restraining order, and Swart dismissed him out of hand.
Then the Hamiltons' attorney, Spencer Vodnoy, introduced photographic evidence showing Henry peering toward the Hamilton residence while hiding behind a telephone pole on Glen Street, about 30 feet from the home.
When confronted in court with the pictures, Henry contradicted himself several times, first claiming that the photos were too blurry for him to recognize anyone. However, he admitted that it could be him because he walked along that route during the day for exercise, and then he indicated that he had tried to at least look into the Hamilton's home from that location, saying, "You can't even see in their home from there."
Henry further contradicted himself when Vodnoy asked what he was doing in the photograph. At first, Henry said that it wasn't him in the picture. But then, upon further questioning, he said, "I might just be standing there or making a phone call."
During one of those walks around the neighborhood in July 2005, Henry had a physical confrontation with one of his other neighbors, Michael Nerone, who is married to Crystal Nerone -- in another interracial marriage. According to police reports, the two men exchanged words on Loma Alta Boulevard and came to blows after Henry claimed that Nerone spat on him. A witness who saw the incident told sheriff's deputies he did not know who started the incident and no charges were filed.
At Monday's hearing, Swart noted the contradiction in Henry's testimony during his ruling and admonished Henry for what he deemed "obsessive behavior."
"I don't know why he is standing there, or what he's doing, but this shows obsessive behavior on the part of your client," Swart said to Henry's attorney, Robert McNeil. "It's a shame that with all that's going on around the world, with people killing each other, neighbors can't get along."
"To be a good liar you have to have a really good memory, and he doesn't," Mellaine Hamilton said of Henry after the hearing.
"I don't have control of them moving," she said of Henry and his family. "I just want them to stop. If he starts up again, I will go back into that courtroom. I don't consider it a victory, just hopefully the beginning of the end, and I hope they stop."
Vodnoy said he wants Henry to do some jail time.
"I would imagine at some point the punishment should outweigh the obsession," said Vodnoy. "We won't know until Oct. 2 what that will be. What we can only hope is that the judge does something that gives him enough incentive to stop the behavior in its tracks. At worst, it's stalking. At the least, it's surveillance."