In my sleep, I still see all the handguns pointed at me, the flash of light from the sniper’s scope, and the tank.
My wife and I moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, in October 2008.
Having visited the town on several occasions, we fell in love with the lifestyle that defines Fort Collins: rather small-town hospitality and pace, with most of the city amenities, weather that works for our favorite activities, a host of outdoor options, and relatively affordable housing.
We bought a property from a local builder, and put together the specifications for their semi-custom dream house.
It would take about six months to complete. We rented a house, during construction.
I have been medically disabled since 2004.
I was born with a complicated laundry list of eye problems, and a Primary Immune Dysfunction. For over six years, one of the eye problems was treated with eye drops that — I later found out — burned my corneas, leaving me in severe, chronic pain.
I had to leave a career as a Director and Vice President of several different corporations.
I now have to wear fluid-filled, custom-made contact lenses while I am awake, and was treated for the chronic pain that the eye issues cause. It is only because of the gift of these lenses that I could tolerate the dry, windy, wintry climate of Northern Colorado. But the lenses are maintenance-intensive, ridiculously expensive, and … I cannot … MUST not … sleep in them.
My underlying eye issues are particularly severe when doing “close work,” like reading and using computers. My focusing muscles are like having two bad knees, with focusing being a lot like standing up and squatting down. While standing up and squatting down should be fairly easy, in my case, my knees (focusing muscles) tend to either give out or lock up. Imagine being locked with your knees bent at 90 degrees … for hours and hours and hours. When I use my eyes for reading or computer work, that’s what happens – I get a ‘charley horse’ in my eyes.
Medically, I need to be outside as much as possible, bicycling, hiking, snowshoeing, walking, running, or nearly any other activity that lets me focus on things off in the distance – straightening out my legs, so to speak.
The exercise is also necessary to help me strengthen my ability to fight off infections.
As our new house was being built, my wife and I noticed that the structure extended nearly all the way back to the property line, behind the house — much farther than the neighboring house to the North of ours.
As a result, the entire master bedroom was “in the back yard” of the neighbors’ house, and a mere couple of feet away.
No reason to be alarmed, I thought. While the houses were very close together, my wife and I picked this neighborhood because of the clear sense of community and friendly people who lived there.
The way our house was situated could have been an issue, but we felt quite comfortable that — if noise ever became an issue — we’d be dealing, reasonably, with reasonable people, and could resolve any issues that might arise, between neighbors.
We moved into our new house in February 2009. Almost immediately, I realized that the neighbors had two young dogs who barked.
And barked a lot.
And barked exceptionally loudly.
The young sister dogs were a ‘cattle dog mix,’ a breed known for its intense, high-pitched bark.
The dogs barked early in the morning, late at night, and — on most days — for hours on end, while their owners were away.
And the dogs’ owners were away a great deal of the time – all day long, and for days on end.
Because I often cannot fall asleep for hours because of the pain in my eyes — particularly once I remove the special contact lenses – I was being awakened, over and over and over.
Upon awakening, it feels like there’s ground glass in my eyes. Like there’s molten ground glass in my eyes. It’s terrible. The pain is excruciating. I was losing hours of sleep each day, and … because of the all-day barking … couldn’t even take a much-needed nap.
This began a spiral of fatigue and increasing pain that led me back to the doctors at the pain clinic, for relief. Increased medications led to increased fatigue. Increased sleep deprivation led to increased pain. It was a vicious cycle. I was trapped in it. It was just a horrible nightmare.
I told my wife that the dog owners were probably used to living next to an empty lot. I was sure that they would adjust to having people live next door. I chose to give them a bit of time to see if the problem resolved on its own, before bringing it up.
But the problem didn’t resolve. The hour after hour, day after day barking just continued.
The barking echoed throughout my house, no matter how many doors and windows were closed, or what kind of earplugs or background noise I used to minimize the noise. The houses were mere feet apart. The barking dogs were as close as about arm’s length from the entire side of my house.
Without the barking of the neighbors’ dogs, the neighborhood — well, at least our house — was just about dead silent, nearly all the time. It was unbelievable to me just how intense these barks were, coming against a background of such profound quiet. It was like a bomb going off. Not only was it horrendously loud, but it was what they call an “impulse” noise – very sudden – as opposed to sounds like traffic that are pretty constant.
After a couple of months of this, I finally wrote a kindly-worded note to the neighbors, explaining my medical circumstances, and the toll it was taking on my health. I invited the dog owners to come to our house, to meet, chat, and talk about the barking issue.
For a week or so, things seemed to get better. I sent the neighbors a fruit basket to express my thanks.
But the respite didn’t last. The barking problem returned, and quickly.
I, again, sent a kindly-worded note. Again, I offered to meet and chat, over a glass of wine or a dinner.
By this time, the fatigue was catching up with me. I was having great difficulty pursuing the outdoor activities that were so critical to the health of my eyes, and … I began to get sick.
This time, though, the neighbors’ response wasn’t particularly cordial. They said that “other dogs bark, too,” despite the fact that no other dogs were barking mere feet from my bedroom, waking me up, or preventing me from sleeping in any room of my house.
Finally, after about seven months of this, fighting to remain physically active, and now on antibiotics for an illness that wouldn’t let up, the dogs barked for over an hour, at about 11:00 at night, while I was trying desperately to sleep.
One of the dog-owners — a professional bicycle racer — was in Italy, for a race, at the time.
I sent her an e-mail, letting her know that her dogs, again, were barking continuously, and preventing me from sleeping.
She sent an e-mail back, telling me — at 11pm, and already sick — to “walk next door and talk to her husband about it.”
But nobody was home at the neighbors’ house, and the dogs’ barking wasn’t stopping.
At this point, I told the neighbors that the barking was not only a problem for him, but might point to a problem with the dogs themselves. Maybe they were frightened, anxious, lonely, bored, or even scared.
The dog-owners dug their heels in. They insisted that there was nothing wrong with their dogs, and — in effect — nothing more that they would do.
The dog-owners let me know, that it was time for me to leave them alone.
I reached out to Animal Control, citing the pre-sunrise barking, the near-midnight barking, and the hours-on-end, day-after-day barking. On several occasions, I held the phone in the air, allowing Animal Control to listen to as much of the non-stop barking as they wanted.
Despite having a conversation with the dog-owners, Animal Control would go no further. They claimed to require statements from complainants at two separate addresses. As I later found out, this wasn’t actually Animal Control’s policy.
I explained that nobody else’s house was situated the way mine was, and that the dog-owners’ other neighbor worked and traveled a great deal. She also had a SECOND floor bedroom, well out of the “line of fire.” I’m sure the barking was nowhere near the intrusion for the other neighbor that it was in our house.
I wrote to Animal Control, explaining the circumstances, and pleading with them TO act, in this case.
They wouldn’t act.
The barking continued.
I asked the Fort Collins Police Department to intervene.
The only animal noise complaints that they pursued were based on referrals from Animal Control, who had already refused to act OR refer the matter. Apparently, this is a pretty common catch-22 in many cities.
I was stuck.
My health was deteriorating. I was chronically exhausted. My vision was getting worse. It was all but impossible for me to engage in the critically important outdoor pursuits.
As my long-time primary care ophthalmologist had always said, “Four things will ALWAYS make your vision worse: fatigue, illness, stress, and intoxication.” At this point, I had all four strikes against me. I was a medical wreck.
I reached out to the property managers of the neighborhood’s Homeowners’ Association — letting them know that this had been going on for eight months, and that all civil, friendly, and reasonable efforts to resolve it, between neighbors, had failed.
I let them know the toll it was taking on my health, and pleaded with her to help.
They promised to help.
But things didn’t get better.
Reaching out to the property managers, again, I was told that “the Homeowners’ Association does not want [us] to pursue any further action.” They recommended that I “contact a Board member.”
I was among the last to move into this rather small neighborhood — one where the close-knit feeling among the residents had a strong appeal. But I quickly realized that this close-knit community was a double-edged sword.
Dealing with worsening medical issues, since shortly after moving in, meant that I hadn’t been able to “join” the community, as I had hoped to, and that the Homeowner’s Association comprised this tight-knit group of friends.
I asked the property manager for the contact information for the Board members. She gave me only one name: that of the Vice President of the HOA’s Board of Directors.
Meanwhile, the situation appeared on the radar screen of the City’s Mediation Coordinator.
The Mediation person mailed a letter to me, asking if I would be interested in mediation. I responded that I would be glad for the opportunity, and — on several occasions — asked her to call me to talk things over.
The Mediator never called me back, despite me leaving several voice mail messages and sending numerous emails trying to speak with her.
I sent the HOA’s Vice President a note, explaining the magnitude of the barking problem, the impact it was having on me, and the neighborly way in which I had asked the neighbors for help in resolving the issue.
The HOA Vice President wrote back, saying that the HOA wasn’t going to take any steps to resolve the issue, “since there are so many folks with dogs,” and “they all know that our own dogs are prone to bark at times, and do not wish to be hypocrites.”
Nobody would ever just speak to me about the problem, no matter how often I asked to meet.
Nobody stopped by to see the unfortunate proximity of my home and bedroom to where the dogs spent most of their waking hours, or to understand that there was no escape, within my home, from the intrusion of the barking, and that the barking wasn’t just a brief and occasional issue, but would go on hour after hour, day after day.
After a while, I wrote back to the HOA Vice President, pleading with him to reconsider, to understand the circumstances involved, that the problem wasn’t occasional and annoying, but inescapable, chronic, and taking a devastating toll on my health.
I offered to meet with the Board, anywhere, and at any time, to go over the particulars and make my case.
The HOA Vice President didn’t respond.
I reached out to him one last time, asking for the contact information for the entire Board of Directors.
The HOA Vice President then responded with a shocking list of reasons why he didn’t like me, personally, and explaining how close his friendship was with the dog-owning neighbors. It was just a scathing and vicious personal attack.
While the HOA Vice President had only met me, personally, once, and briefly, he went on and on, for several paragraphs, about all of the things that he thought were wrong with me, none of which were true, and none of which had anything to do with the actual problem.
Rather than explore the truth of the barking situation, the HOA Vice President and his neighbors began looking into me, personally, looking for ways to demonize me, rather than address the barking issue, itself.
And, still, not a soul would meet with me or talk to me.
The HOA Vice President closed by telling me to leave him and everybody else in the neighborhood alone, and made it clear that — while I had done everything in my power to keep this issue confined to only the people in a position to do anything about it — it had become a neighborhood-wide issue, and that “the majority of the neighborhood” had turned on me.
I scheduled a Mediation date with the neighbors, despite never having had a chance to talk with the Mediator, directly.
When the Mediation date came, my wife and I were there. Nobody else was.
Apparently, the Mediator had canceled the Mediation, but never told me.
Seeing no further “friendly” options, and being too sick to consider moving, I consulted an attorney, and asked her to try to convince the neighbors to curb the dogs’ barking.
The neighbors refused, eventually threatening to sue me for “harassment.”
By this point, my health was a mess. I was virtually unable to get outside, and had been battling exhaustion for the better part of a year. Now, the dog owners were threatening to sue me. I was being treated with multiple antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, steroids, and monthly IV infusions of Immune Globulin.
Nothing was working. The medical bills were piling up. My health was just crumbling.
In the spring of 2010, more than a year into life with chronic barking, I was now battling insomnia, struggling for any sleep that I could get.
Unable to sleep in the custom contact lenses that I had to wear, I had to leave them out for days at a time, to allow me to nap when I could.
This led to a string of sight-threatening corneal problems that forced me to make a nearly impossible drive to Boston, to be treated for six weeks at a specialty eye center, there — a period that I describe as “a lot like torture.” Eight hours a day, five days a week, of enduring excruciating eye pain, in an effort to fit me with new lenses.
I asked my attorney what I should do.
She suggested that my wife and I file lawsuits against the neighbors for Private Nuisance, and against the HOA Vice President and the Homeowners’ Association for Failure to Enforce Covenants, Breach of Duty of Care, Breach of Duty of Good Faith, and Breach of Contract.
As part of the lawsuit, I learned that the dog-owning neighbors, the HOA Vice President, and our neighborhood friends had banded together to stop me , spread false and vicious rumors about me, and do everything in their power to side with their friends, the dog-owners.
They were totally unconcerned about the truth, the barking, or the harm it had caused me. They simply sided with their old friends, and against this new guy.
Rather than ever talk TO me, the neighbors spent an inordinate amount of time talking ABOUT me.
They had decided that — since they had “seen [me] ride a bicycle, before,” that I must not be disabled.
As part of the lawsuit, I learned that the dog-owners and their friends had reached out to every member of the community, telling them a one-sided version of what had happened, and saying that I was “trying to force them to get rid of their dogs,” rather than simply train them not to bark so much.
As part of the lawsuit, I learned that several neighbors often heard the neighbors’ dogs bark.
These neighbors lived quite far away from the dogs, relative to my house. If these neighbors heard the barking from 150 feet away, why couldn’t they imagine just how loud it must have been in my house, only a few feet away from the dogs ?
In another document, the situation had been presented as me “insisting that the animals are either removed or put down [killed].”
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
From the beginning, my wife and I loved the dogs. In fact, I continued to venture outside in an effort to calm and quiet the dogs, even giving them treats from time to time – something the neighbors’ attorney deemed “suspicious” and ordered me to stop.
No. I never had a problem with the dogs. The problem was with the owners.
As part of the lawsuit, I learned that the dog-owners had been in lengthy back-and-forth correspondence with the City Mediator (who never returned my phone calls). The Mediator was counseling the dog-owners on how THEY should handle the situation with THEIR ‘annoying neighbor.’ To the Mediator, the dog owners, and the neighborhood, I was the annoying neighbor.
Again: the Mediator never got my side of the story, and never spoke with me.
As I later discovered, the Mediator already had a relationship with the dog-owners.
The Mediator soon left the City of Fort Collins. Her department said that there was no file on my case. Apparently, the Mediator had destroyed it before departing.
The lawsuit was stressful, painful, and extremely expensive for my wife and me.
Eventually, the Judge dismissed the lawsuit against the Homeowners’ Association, ruling that — no matter how the HOA acted, what they did, what they did not do, or what laws may have been broken — since it was up to the Homeowners’ Association whether or not they would enforce the dog barking Covenant — the case was totally without merit.
The Judge never even considered the other legal Causes of Action. I never got my day in court.
The Motion for Summary Judgment, then, was decided in favor of the HOA. The strategy of the HOA’s attorney was to “prove” that I wasn’t disabled at all — simply factually untrue. They were given piles of medical records – requested from me – that more than substantiated everything I had said.
The Judge throwing out my case meant that — in the eyes of Judge Kaup — there were no issues of law or fact that should be decided by a Judge or a jury. In law, this is an extremely high bar. There was no way a Motion for Summary Judgment should ever have been granted in our case.
Even the Judge-Mediator, with whom we met, in Denver (at a Court-ordered Mediation), said that there was no way this could happen. She said that the case was chock full of issues of fact and law.
I was denied my day in court.
The Judge then awarded the HOA $73,000 in legal fees, in addition to the nearly $100,000 in fees that I had already spent.
This $73,000 was payable to State Farm Insurance, the policyholder of the HOA’s Officers and Directors’ insurance.
This took my life’s savings, left me broke, and … absolutely stunned.
I was reeling.
Despondent, sick, and without hope of a fair trial, in the Court of this Judge, my wife and I settled with the dog-owners.
We had spent everything we had, and my health was still going downhill.
At this point, my only activities were trips to Denver, to be evaluated by Immunologists, Infectious Disease specialists, and Ear, Nose, and Throat specialists, and to get my monthly IV’s.
Eventually, the ENT recommended a sinus surgery to clear up the persistent infection that hadn’t responded to aggressive multi-drug therapy.
While recovering from the surgery, and running a fever, one of the neighbors used his ATV to plow the sidewalks and driveways of the houses on either side of mine. He plowed all of the snow onto my sidewalk, forcing me – in order to comply with Fort Collins law – to bundle up, perspiring, feverish, shivering, and – literally – with blood dripping out of my nose –and dig myself out of the mountains of snow the ATV-owning neighbor had left me.
I, again, called the Fort Collins Police Department, and begged them to intervene. I told them that the pattern of behavior of the neighbors – against a medically-disabled man – was escalating. I told the Police Officer that I was “medically disabled, in chronic pain, have an immune dysfunction, and have been battling serious health issues.”
She – literally – laughed out loud at me, and said that this was “the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard.”
I never recovered my health. Neither could I make it to my next scheduled trip to the eye specialists in Boston.
Those Boston trips cost me about $12,000, out of pocket, each time I have to go. We just didn’t have it, anymore.
Since the time that the Motion for Summary Judgment was decided, in favor of the HOA, I had to file multiple police reports against the HOA Vice President, who had begun to harass me on numerous occasions, while the next-door neighbor OF the HOA Vice President tried to run me off of the road, with his truck, and revved the engine of his motorcycle every single time he passes my house. This same man “played chicken” with me on numerous occasions, as I left the neighborhood.
I was physically unable to move out of the neighborhood, to get my health back, or to pursue the outdoor activities that were so critical to both my eyes and the stability of my health.
For months, I did nothing but be seen by medical specialists, all of whom were stumped about how to restore my health.
I later learned that the Judge is married to the sister of a residential and commercial property builder, who runs Homeowners Associations, and that the Judge’s daughter worked for the Judge’s brother-in-law, as a Property Manager of these Homeowners’ Associations.
For me, it begged the question of whether or not the Judge should have recused himself, in this case, since it would raise the appearance of bias to many observers.
The Judge’s family makes money, and his daughter makes a living, by siding with the HOAs, NOT the residents. I can only imagine the sort of one-sided conversation that takes place around that dinner table, when they get together. I was pretty shocked when I learned how tightly intertwined his life was with HOAs, and — for the life of me — couldn’t understand why he didn’t let another Judge preside over our case. But it certainly explains a lot.
The dog-owners finally moved from the neighborhood in the spring of 2011, but not before one of their two puppies — only about two years old — died.
It was the dog who barked much more than the other, and made me worry that the dogs were truly NOT okay.
The dog died of an autoimmune disease.
I don’t think the dogs were okay. I think she was either sick, and barking because she was sick, or the stress of being left alone so much made her sick. Either way, the dog died. It was the worst kind of lose-lose situation, and simply didn’t have to happen, in the first place. They lost a dog, and I lost everything. And for what ?
My wife and I look back, in disbelief, at the whole saga.
We moved to this neighborhood, in Fort Collins, for a better quality of life, and for the sense of community that this neighborhood promised. 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.
Having spent nearly all of the winter of 2011-2012 living as a recluse — leaving my house only for medical visits, I knew that, as spring came, II would have to tend to the landscaping of my property. There was no way the HOA was going to cut me ANY slack.
But I could find no landscapers to return my call during the busiest part of their season.
Having avoided further threats, assaults, and abuse by the neighbors, by staying inside, it seemed I’d be able to stay inside no longer.
It was clear that the authorities would do absolutely nothing to protect me from further harm.
For self-defense, I purchased a handgun, was trained in its use, and openly carried it on my property, while maintaining the yard — perfectly legal in Fort Collins.
I’m not a gun guy. I’ve never owned a gun in my life. But the escalating pattern of abuse and torment … against a disabled guy who simply tried to sleep in his home made it impossible for me to know just how far these individuals were willing to go. And it became clear that the authorities weren’t going to help me. I was never going to hurt anybody. I simply had to protect myself from them … again … still.
I only stepped outside my house for the briefest of periods, and after ensuring nobody else was around near my end of the neighborhood. And … when I did step outside … I openly and legally carried my gun.
In early June, having seen me carrying a handgun ON my property, the HOA Vice President — hiding behind the bushes in his own yard and using an eight-power telephoto lens, took a handful of pictures of me carrying the gun.
He snapped a handful of pictures during the roughly five minutes I had dared to exit my house. In all but one picture, I was looking down at the yard that I was maintaining. In one picture, I looked straight ahead for a brief moment.
Fort Collins Police and SWAT team arrested me. There were probably 20 law enforcement officers, in full riot gear, all pointing guns at me. There was an armored SWAT vehicle in the street, two doors down, and a sniper pointing a rifle at me from across the street.
This is the image that haunts my dreams, awakening me nearly every single night.
They jailed me and charged me with Felony Menacing.
I was given a “Deferred Prosecution” that required – among other things – an evaluation by a forensic psychologist. The psychologist concluded that I …
“responded appropriately to the emotional stress and turmoil created by the ongoing dispute by seeking out mental health counseling and his process of problem resolution was progressive and appropriate to the circumstances. There was no indication that Mr. Brooks responded impulsively or irrationally during the dispute and, while frustrated by the circumstances and outcome of his case, he never verbalized retaliatory or vengeful thoughts against the opposing parties.”
The Court also imposed a Gag Order on me, preventing me from speaking publicly about the case.
Fort Collins has had more than its share of negative publicity, largely due to government malfeasance. Apparently, this time, they could control the publicity and be sure nobody knew what they had done … at my expense.
I moved away from Fort Collins, and into a long-term hotel in the Denver area. My wife and I are currently separated. I am still pursuing solutions to the issues with my health. All of my possessions are in Colorado storage spaces, my unprotected, chemically-burned eyes make it impossible for me to live in the State, unless I’m utterly stuck inside – the worst place in the world for me to be.
Since all of this happened, I have been seen by numerous corneal specialists, all of whom agree that I should not wear my life-saving lenses. I can spend the weeks and the thousands of dollars to TRY to be fit again, but there’s no longer any guarantee that wearing the lenses won’t cause further harm to my eyes.
After talking with Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) attorneys, it became clear that my civil rights, as a disabled person, had been violated by the neighborhood, the Homeowners’ Association, and their property management company, when the Homeowners’ Association denied me the “reasonable accommodation” needed to maintain my quality of life.
All I ever asked was that the dogs’ barking be curbed. That’s it. Nothing more.
It’s also likely that the City, the County, and the various governmental agencies’ refusal to act constituted a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Unfortunately, my attorney — from the onset — told me that there were no federal discrimination issues, in the case. She was wrong. If she had made a simple phone call, to see that my case WAS Federal, the case would have been heard outside of Fort Collins, and would have — almost certainly — yielded a different result.
Still unable to safely wear the life-saving custom lenses, I left the country, for Central America, in March 2013, on the theory that the extreme humidity of the region might help me stave off additional sight-threatening complications. It did not work.
In August 2013, I returned to the States, to live with family members, and — once again — pursue a path back to the Boston clinic that could TRY, again, to make new lenses for me. The trip is extremely expensive and extremely painful. I tried to save money, and began working with a Pain Clinic, a Palliative Care Clinic, and a team of doctors, to get the pain under control, and — hopefully — allow me to make the Boston journey anew.
Unfortunately, on Christmas Day, I got sick. Seriously sick.
After months of doctor visits and procedures, followed by a three-week long trip to the Mayo Clinic, I got a diagnosis of “DRESS Syndrome –“ a life-threatening reaction to a prescription medication – in this case, most likely the anticonvulsant that was prescribed to try to manage my corneal nerve pain.
The Mayo Clinic recommended that I avoid any medication not deemed “absolutely essential,” leaving me with no custom lenses, and no options for treating the recurrent infections OR the chronic corneal nerve pain.
The cult of residents in that neighborhood, and the City of Fort Collins, Colorado … have truly taken everything away from me, a disabled man … who had never hurt a soul … and wanted nothing more than to be able to sleep in his new house.