Art imitating headlines
New movie mirrors former cop’s ongoing racial feud with neighbors
By Andre Coleman 07/03/2008
The trailer of Samuel L. Jackson’s latest movie might seem familiar to anyone following the ongoing saga of Altadena resident and former LAPD Officer Irsie Henry.
As the movie Web site IMDB.com describes “Lakeview Terrace”: “A young couple [Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington] has just moved into their California dream home when they become the target of their next-door neighbor, who disapproves of their interracial relationship. A stern, single father, this tightly wound LAPD officer [Jackson] has appointed himself the watchdog of the neighborhood. His nightly foot patrols and overly watchful eyes bring comfort to some, but he becomes increasingly harassing to the newlyweds. These persistent intrusions into their lives cause the couple to fight back.”
In real life, Henry has been accused of much the same thing — nearly all of the above except bringing comfort to anyone — the result of which has been his dismissal from the police force, the filing of several mutual restraining orders by and against him and his neighbors in Altadena, and finally Henry’s arrest for violating one of those orders.
And on June 20, it was Henry, not Jackson, who once again stood before Pasadena Superior Court Judge Coleman Swart, although at times the situation seemed like something right out of a Hollywood movie.
Attempting to prove that his neighbor John Hamilton had violated a restraining order last November by spraying him with a water hose, Henry opted to act as his own attorney.
Armed with a DVD supposedly containing images of the latest incident between the two men, Henry first told Swart that he needed a television and a DVD player.
“Well where is it? This is your motion. It’s not up to the court to provide you with the equipment,” Swart responded impatiently.
After admitting that he didn’t have either piece of equipment, Henry was forced to wait while real-life attorney Spencer Vodnoy, representing Hamilton and his wife, Mellaine, questioned Altadena Sheriff’s Detective Ron Hernandez about the incident.
In that testimony, Hernandez said his investigation found that Hamilton had sprayed Henry with the hose defensively, only after Henry raked leaves onto Hamilton’s property and Hamilton sprayed them off with the hose.
Henry then threw up his hands in frustration and dropped his rake and dustpan, which then, Hernandez testified, landed on Hamilton’s property. Hamilton picked up the gardening tools and tossed them back into Henry’s yard. At that point, Hernandez testified that Henry picked up the dustpan and appeared to swing it at Hamilton, who raised his hands to protect himself as he backed up, spraying Henry in the face.
Henry called deputies and claimed that Hamilton violated the restraining order and promised to deliver a copy of the DVD to the Altadena station, but never did so.
“At one point, I called his home and a man I believe to be Mr. Henry answered the phone and told me to hang on, and then hung up,” Hernandez testified, adding Henry had apparently shown the DVD to other deputies, but not to him.
In fact, Hernandez’s entire testimony was based on what he had seen on another DVD of the same incident, this one recorded by the Hamiltons.
In late 2006, Hernandez arrested Henry outside Swart’s courtroom after Henry played another DVD
of a different encounter with Hamilton, this one ending with Henry spraying Hamilton with pepper spray.
A separate case regarding that incident, which could result in Henry being sentenced to six months in jail and fined $1,000, is also currently being heard in that same court.
The feud between the neighbors has been going on since 1999, with multiple restraining orders being issued against both sides during that time. At the heart of the animosity is Henry’s alleged dislike for mixed-race couples, the Hamiltons among them. Henry is African American. John Hamilton is white, and Mellaine Hamilton is black.
On June 23, at the outset of his cross-examination of Hernandez, it was immediately obvious that Henry was out of his element. Amid 13 sustained objections, Henry only managed to ask three relevant questions, and two of those were confirmations of Hernandez’s earlier testimony.
The hearing came to a close because Swart had to be in San Fernando for a personal matter. The two sides will return on July 30.
Henry did not return phone calls for this story.
“He who represents himself has a fool for a client,” Mellaine Hamilton said afterward. “I mean, come on. It is unbelievable that as long as this has been going on this man takes things to the level he does and does not see the big picture. There is nothing else you can say.”
Last year, Swart determined that Henry had violated a restraining order when he cut two tarpaulin covers that the Hamiltons had installed to avoid further confrontations. Swart ordered Henry to pay $7,000 in court costs and attorney fees and sentenced him to 10 days in jail, but immediately suspended the jail time and told him it was his last chance. Swart said Henry would be jailed if he violated the order again.
Henry’s DVD could show him violating that order if it contains images consistent with Hernandez’s testimony of Henry swinging a dustpan at Hamilton and causing Hamilton to act defensively.
Henry was dismissed from the LAPD two years ago after multiple complaints about his behavior from neighbors, his supervisors and the LA County Sheriff’s Department.
“Lakeview Terrace,” directed by Neil LaBute and written by David Loughery and Howard Korder — who has written plays produced at the Pasadena Playhouse and Theatre@Boston Court — is set for release later this summer.
The story of Henry and his neighbors has also caught the attention of the Los Angeles Press Club, which two weeks ago awarded it a second-place award for hard news coverage by newspapers with circulations under 100,000.