8-year feud results in jail time

Spitting neighbor caught on camera gets 2-day sentence

judge says, `Enough is enough'

February 13, 2007|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,sun reporter

The simmering feud between a pair of Columbia neighbors -- which has resulted in 13 criminal cases and more than 100 calls to police -- reached a milestone yesterday: a jail sentence.

One of the participants received a sentence of two days in the Howard County Detention Center for spitting at the other in a disagreement over grass clippings.

Noting the judicial system's exhaustion at the "back and forth of who is going to win today" that has spanned eight years, Howard County District Court Judge Neil E. Axel imposed the jail sentence on Timothy Cerny, 47, of the 6100 block of Swift Current Way in Columbia's River Hill village.

Axel found Cerny guilty of second-degree assault for spitting at his neighbor, David Elliott, during an argument in April over the placement of bags of grass clippings near Cerny's property. The exchange was captured by a camcorder and shown in court.

Cerny asked Axel not to sentence him to jail time because it would impede on his ability to work as a financial adviser and support his family.

"This is senseless that the county and state resources have to be spent over bags of grass clippings." Axel said. "... Enough is enough, and the line needs to be drawn."

Cerny began serving the sentence yesterday.

The 12 previous criminal cases -- which consisted of failing to comply with court orders, harassment and second-degree assault -- either did not result in a conviction or were not prosecuted. The Elliotts filed a civil lawsuit in Howard County Circuit Court last month for $250,000 in compensation for the costs associated with the legal battles.

The Cernys and Elliotts have been next-door neighbors since 1999. The ill will between the two neighbors began when the Cernys decided to build a backyard pool. The pool, which was never built, would have faced the Elliotts' front yard. The Elliotts live behind the Cernys on a flag lot, named for its narrow, pole-like entrance and flag-shaped rear area.

According to testimony yesterday, Cerny told Elliott to move several dozen bags of grass clippings that Elliott placed near their property line. Cerny said their placement violated land regulations in Columbia. When Elliott failed to do so, Cerny said, he moved the bags and Elliott then moved them back.

As the men shouted at each other, Elliott captured the exchange with his camcorder. The video, which was played in court yesterday, showed the two throwing the bags and bickering, and then Cerny spitting.

Elliott testified that Cerny's spit hit his face and the camcorder. Cerny's attorney, Dwight W. Clark, argued that the spit did not make contact with Elliott. "If [Cerny] were to spit in his face, [Elliott] would have had some form of reaction," said Clark, adding that the video did not show that Elliott flinched.

Cerny testified that he did spit, but said he was not aiming for Elliott.

"I did not intend to spit at him, I spit in disgust," Cerny said.

Cerny filed a countersuit against Elliott, claiming that he hit him in the head with the camera during the incident. The Howard County state's attorney's office dropped the charges.

"We evaluate each of these cases on an individual basis, and we want to be sure that we are not being a vehicle for harassing one or the other," Howard County State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone said afterward. "We don't want to be part of the problem."tyrone.richardson@baltsun.com

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