Monday, Dec. 27, 2010 | 8:46 p.m.
A Boulder City man claims the city and its police department supplied his neighbor with surveillance equipment to spy on him, according to a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court of Nevada.
Curtis Shafer, 1733 Red Mountain Drive, alleges that Police Chief Thomas Finn, Deputy Chief John Chase and Detective Mark Dubois conspired against him by providing four cameras to his neighbor, Mark Fenyves, 1731 Red Mountain Drive. In the lawsuit, Shafer claims the city is violating his civil rights and his rights to privacy under the Fourth and 14th amendments, as well as the Nevada Constitution.
The lawsuit -- filed by Shafer’s attorney, Roger Harris -- alleges police didn’t obtain a warrant to conduct surveillance and didn’t mention the activity in reports. Shafer is seeking punitive damages from the city for the alleged intrusion of his privacy and that of his three children, while also citing emotional distress and harm.
At a September trial after Shafer was charged with trespassing for allegedly trying to remove a camera affixed to a pole on Fenyves’ property, Fenyves testified police had given him four cameras for surveillance, according to the lawsuit, and they were directed toward Shafer’s backyard and home, as well as the home’s bathroom. Fenyves was also named as a defendant in the suit.
Fenyves or members of the police department installed the cameras in March 2009, the lawsuit alleges, after Boulder City Municipal Judge Victor Miller ordered Fenyves not to trespass on Shafer’s property.
Shafer complained to police about the cameras around April 2009 and no action was taken, the lawsuit claims, but Shafer says he only became aware of the police department’s role at the trial.
Judge Margaret Whitaker dismissed the trespassing charge against Shafer after learning of police involvement in the surveillance, saying footage from the cameras had been used as evidence.
The lawsuit alleges that Finn, Chase, Dubois and an unknown number of police and city officials had viewed the tapes. City Attorney Dave Olsen, Finn, Chase and Dubois were out of the office on Monday and could not be reached for comment. City officials said no one else was available to comment on the case.
Police are familiar with the Shafer home.
On Aug. 28, 2009, Boulder City authorities raided the house, arresting Shafer and his wife, Jenna Shafer, although Harris said the lawsuit wasn’t related to that incident.
After the raid, police said they arrested the Shafers on suspicion of felonies that included possession of methamphetamines and maintaining a house for drug use and sale, along with 34 counts of possessing drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor.
The felony charges never were filed and Curtis Shafer was acquitted of the misdemeanor charges. He was found guilty on one count of obstruction of justice.
Mercedes Fenyves, Mark Fenyves’ wife, who has lived on Red Mountain Drive for 15 years, told the Sun on Monday that living next to the Shafers has been “total hell.”
She said people come and go from the home, and as many as 20 people might be staying at the Shafer home at a time. She said she has become fearful for the safety of her two children.
“We know the whole routine,” said Mercedes Fenyves, who said she and her husband weren’t aware of the lawsuit until the Sun’s inquiry. “It’s really scary that something like this can continue to happen.”
She declined to comment on the specifics of the case.
According to the lawsuit, Mark Fenyves testified in September that he had made 180 calls to police about Shafer since Shafer, his wife and their three children moved in three years ago. Shafer’s father, Ed Shafer, owns the property.
Brett Harris, assistant to Shafer attorney Roger Harris, said Shafer’s “past mistakes” were no excuse for authorities to ignore his civil rights.
“It’s outrageous to me. The Constitution applies to every citizen,” she said. “You can’t pick and choose who has rights.”
The lawsuit alleges that the cameras were obtained via a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The stated purpose was to “assist in combating terrorist and criminal activities,” the suit claims.
Shafer also named Boulder City Mayor Roger Tobler as a defendant. The lawsuit charges that Tobler made slanderous comments about Shafer at a town meeting on Jan. 19, 2010. Tobler allegedly said he was aware of the problems in the neighborhood and thought Shafer was the source, saying "I wouldn't want to live next to that, either."
The lawsuit alleges the comments damaged Shafer's reputation and were made while Tobler was acting in his official capacity as mayor.