An emotional interaction between residents and a Pinellas County Sheriff's sergeant was the last straw for frustrated leaders of the Lyndhurst Street Neighborhood Watch group last Wednesday.
Lyndhurst Street residents say they were merely reporting suspicious activity on their Dunedin street on Nov. 28, like Sheriff Bob Gualtieri encouraged them to do 15 days earlier during a Nov. 13 Southside Town Hall meeting at the Hale Senior Activity Center.
Gualtieri told residents to keep calling, but that it takes time and lots of undercover work to infiltrate an underground drug operation.
Deputies arrived on the scene Nov. 28 and searched persons in the driveway at a residence, ultimately releasing the individuals, said ex-Lyndhurst Neighborhood Watch leaders Stacy Rush, a former policewoman, and Donald DeVore, her fiance.
That's when a Pinellas County Sheriff sergeant came to the scene.
As soon as the responding deputies left the scene, the sergeant allegedly yelled at Rush, whom he assumed called in the tip, she said.
The sergeant, whose name was not known to residents, allegedly "got into their faces," told them to "stop calling" the Sheriff's Office, and "you don't know what you're seeing," Rush and DeVore, who both supported Scott Swope, Gualtieri's 2012 election opponent, told Dunedin Patch on Friday.
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That incident, compounded by several others in which Rush alleges being harassed, was the last straw. Rush, DeVore and two other residents pointed to neighborhood incidents involving a pizza delivery prank, a Nov. 18 verbal altercation that nearly erupted in a neighborhood brawl, a fist fight in the middle of Milwaukee Street with authorities one block away, and a suspicious after-dark delivery from an ice cream truck — all with no arrests — as evidence authorities are not taking their concerns seriously.
The 10 key members of the Lyndhurst Neighborhood Watch, at only about three months old, agreed that it would disband the 70- to 80-member group immediately after the Wednesday incident, despite a meeting scheduled for Dec. 5.
An email announcement was sent Nov. 28 at 7:09 p.m.:
This letter is to inform all those interested the South Side Neighborhood Watch has been dissolved. We have been left with little to no support from Sheriff Dept since the last meeting. We have been made to feel like the criminals by law enforcement. Sorry, but we are not safe trying to help the South Side of Dunedin be drug and crime. We have been given excuses and no action. We have been told not to call SO by Sheriff Dept. We are not seeing drug deals go down or other crime. We do not know what we are seeing. Good luck to those living on the South side.
The key members of committee all agreed to end this Watch.
There will be no Meeting on December 5, 2012.
"We no longer trust the Sheriff's Office for protection," Rush said from her front porch just two days after the announcement.
Rush said the group had one meeting and recently declined a free Pinellas County Sheriff's class that teaches residents how to observe and report suspicious persons and potential criminal activity.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office held the annual National Night Out on a plot of land across from Rush and DeVore's duplex in early August.