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Bitter fight among neighbors roils Summerplace

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN, (Week of June 20, 2013)

A bitter four-year fight among neighbors in Summerplace – who repeatedly summoned police to deal with loud noise at late night parties, gunfire, drunkenness, and drug abuse at the home of one part-time resident – has left one of the complainers with a shattered life after he was wrongly arrested and falsely branded a pedophile.

The dispute began in May 2009 when neighbors on East Sand Dollar Lane first called police about Rick McDonald, a Fort Lauderdale man who has a vacation home a few houses from the ocean. McDonald was shooting a .357 Magnum outside after a raucous night of partying.

Among the callers to police was Richard Oujevolk, who lives west of McDonald. Police came to McDonald’s house, and warned that they would arrest him if he continued.  A few days later McDonald was arrested in Central Beach for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Though the charges were dropped, McDonald apparently blamed Oujevolk, a 52-year-old traffic engineer, and verbally threatened to harm him. Oujevolk then went to court in Indian River County and obtained a restraining order against McDonald, a 43-year-old businessman.

The court record contains numerous police reports, affidavits from  neighbors, and other documents having to do with residents’ fear and concern over McDonald and what was going on at his house to disrupt a bucolic slice of island life. 

McDonald did not return repeated calls from Vero Beach 32963 seeking comment about his view of the dispute. But his attorney in Ft. Lauderdale, Jim Stark, talked to Vero Beach 32963 and said that to focus on what court records and police reports appear to reveal about his client and to ask questions about them was “unfairly adversarial to Rick McDonald.”

In the public record are five affidavits from neighbors, other than Oujevolk, expressing fear for their safety because of “McDonald’s threatening, aggressive behavior.”

Also, there are numerous police reports of calls they made to McDonald’s house in the wee hours of the morning in response to complaints of gunfire, loud noise, drunkenness and loitering on the block.

A lieutenant from the sheriff’s office swore under oath that he knew of 20 separate deputy visits to McDonald’s house in 18 months because of calls from different neighbors. He described McDonald as someone who could be “a cooperative person” who quickly changed to being “an uncooperative, hostile person,” which gave the deputy “rise for concern.”

One police report said McDonald had acknowledged the error of his ways – caused, he said, by taking pain medication with alcohol – and said he just wanted “to be left alone and relax.” He blamed Oujevolk for provoking him.

But in fact, neighbors were so alarmed by activities at McDonald’s home that eight of them in a two-block area banded together and hired an off-duty sheriff’s deputy to patrol the block all night to protect them.    

At Oujevolk’s hearing requesting the restraining order against McDonald in August 2009, McDonald’s attorney Stark questioned Oujevolk’s motivation:  “You just disagree with Mr. McDonald’s lifestyle, correct?”

Oujevolk responded: “No sir. I just want him to act respectfully and polite and not put other people’s lives in danger with his actions.”

McDonald testified that Oujevolk was the one threatening him. He accused Oujevolk of “using this court as another harassment tool toward me because you are completely disgusted with my existence.”

But Judge Cynthia Cox didn’t buy it. She said that McDonald’s behavior showed “blatant disregard for the law or for anybody,” and she granted Oujevolk’s request for a restraining order.  

A few weeks later, McDonald called the sheriff’s office to complain about Oujevolk, saying that he repeatedly trespassed on his property between Sept. 1 and Sept. 10, 2009. He demanded that deputies arrest Oujevolk.

But Oujevolk was not arrested because his passport showed he had been in Costa Rica during the time McDonald said he was trespassing.

McDonald then filed for a restraining order against Oujevolk in Ft. Lauderdale, and got it in October, 2009, based on the testimony of two young men who said they saw Oujevolk knock McDonald down. Despite contradictions in their testimony about dates and times the alleged attack occurred, the Ft. Lauderdale judge granted the restraining order.

The order said he could not come within 25 feet of Oujevolk’s Summerplace residence.

While things were relatively quiet for a time, on November, 27, 2011, when Oujevolk was out of town, a frantic woman banged on his door at 3:41 in the morning. His son and his ex-wife, who was staying there while Oujevolk was away, answered the door and let the weeping woman in to call 911.

According to police reports, Heidi Thatcher told them that her boyfriend, Rick McDonald, was “drunk” and “beating me up.”  Deputies drove Thatcher away from the neighborhood.

After that incident, the neighborhood battle picked up intensity.

In January 2012, McDonald began filming Oujevolk walking his dogs down the street.  Films in January, February and March show McDonald yelling at Oujevolk that he is violating the restraining order.

When McDonald engaged him and yelled at him, Oujevolk was over 40 feet away from McDonald’s house and was not in violation of the restraining order. Actually, McDonald appeared to be violating the earlier restraining order against him by yelling at Oujevolk.

Stark, McDonald’s lawyer, said the films show Oujevolk “on the edge of McDonald’s property violating the restraining order and taunting him.” When Vero Beach 32963 viewed the films and said they appeared to actually show Oujevolk across the street, walking away, Stark said the newspaper was “clearly against Rick McDonald.”

The battle reached its lowest point for Oujevolk about eight months ago in October when McDonald, according to neighborhood witness Olivia Justice, called Oujevolk a pedophile and a pervert as he walked his dogs down Sand Dollar Lane.

After that, things went downhill quickly: On Nov. 5, 2012, sheriff’s deputies arrested Oujevolk after McDonald showed them five short videos of Oujevolk walking his dogs.

Those videos, said McDonald, proved that Oujevolk was within 25 feet of his property and violating the restraining order. McDonald demanded that Oujevolk be arrested and he was.

When the case came before Judge Joe Wild, however, the judge agreed that deputies had not understood that the restraining order meant Oujevolk could not come within 25 feet of McDonald’s house, which was set back 25 feet from the road.

It did not mean that Oujevolk could not be within 25 feet of the property line, which would mean Oujevolk couldn’t walk down a public street.

Wild dismissed the charges.

But because of the arrest based on a misunderstanding, Oujevolk’s mug shot appeared on the Web for violating a restraining order. Underneath it, in the comment section, anonymous responders quickly posted calling Oujevolk “a pervert, pedophile, creep, freak and scumbag.”

Five of the anonymous name-callers curiously used the identical sequence of symbols to substitute for curse words: !@#$%, suggesting they might all have been posted by the same person.

In an online comment dated June, 13, 2011, Rick McDonald protested his own arrest for allegedly writing worthless checks in Vero Beach with this comment: “The police are the ones who should have been arrested. !@#$% Cops.”

McDonald’s attorney had no comment about the similarity of the symbols.

The day after Oujevolk’s arrest, someone distributed over 200 flyers throughout Summerplace late at night.

They showed Oujevolk’s mug shot and said, “I think you should know we have a pedophile living among us.” The flyer falsely linked Oujevolk’s arrest for allegedly violating a restraining order to a 12-year-old girl, instead of McDonald. The flyer concluded: “I thought you should know that we have a pervert amongst us.”

There is no evidence, however, of any restraining order ever issued against Oujevolk referencing a 12-year-old girl.

At Sebastian high school that week, Oujevolk’s son, who is an excellent student and athlete, was taunted for having a “pervert father.” Oujevolk, who was being considered for a state transportation job, was suddenly dropped without explanation.

He said he can’t begin to measure the negative effect this battle has had on his son and him, even though all charges against him were dismissed.

“At this point,” he said, “everyone in the neighborhood is just trying to live in peace and move on.”