Decade of Drive-By Honking Spurs Lawsuit

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (CN) – For nearly 10 years, one resident claims employees and officials of a small Eastern Ohio town have been honking while driving past his home, in what he calls a campaign to harass him for bidding on a property owned by the former fire chief’s family.

Despite proof of the harassment, police have refused to investigate his complaints or punish anyone for the honking, according to a complaint filed Thursday by Garrick Krlich in Youngstown federal court.

Krlich claims Hubbard, Ohio Police Chief James R. Taafe, the city of Hubbard and Trumball County “intentionally ‘turned a blind eye’ to the rights and plight of plaintiff and his wife, but numerous city and county officials, executives and employees have been recorded actively, directly and intentionally participating in this campaign, sometimes while in city and/or county vehicles.”

Krich contends the harassment began in 2007, when he tried to purchase a property adjacent to his own.

The property was up for auction following the death of the then-fire chief’s aunt. After Krlich placed the highest bid, former Fire Chief John Clemente Jr. allegedly “told plaintiff to rescind his bid or they’d be ‘bitter enemies for life,’ because the house had been in his family since 1922.”

Although Krlich refused to rescind his winning bid, “title to the property did not pass to him as it should have,” according to the complaint, and he was harassed anyway.

“Members of the Clemente family and their friends and coworkers (including many of John Clemente Jr.’s coworkers in the Hubbard Fire Department) began a campaign to harass, intimidate and terrorize plaintiff and his wife by honking their horns whenever they drove past plaintiff’s residence, which continues to this day,” the lawsuit states. (Parentheses in original.)

In the complaint, Krlich claims he has called the police and 911 about the honking, and has gone so far as obtaining civil protection orders against some of the harassers, but nothing has been done.

He says he installed video and audio recording equipment to capture “countless incidents of horn blowing by passing motorists, including, inter alia, the Hubbard Police Chief’s son and brother, City of Hubbard councilmen, members of Hubbard Police Department (while driving police cruisers), City of Hubbard firemen (while driving City fire trucks),” as well as numerous city and county officials, school buses and others connected to the local governments. (Parentheses in original.)

Despite this proof, the police department has failed and refused to do anything, Krlich alleges. He claims the police department refuses to take many of his reports, and 911 has hung up on him.

“The Hubbard Police Department and Trumball 9-1-1 Center require plaintiff, and only plaintiff, to follow a specific ‘protocol’ prior to contacting the Hubbard Police Department or 9-1-1 Center, or they will not respond to, or accept, a noise or harassment complaint from him,” the lawsuit states.

A city attorney for Hubbard did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment.

Krlich is suing Hubbard, Police Chief Taafe and Trumball County for an alleged violation of the Equal Protection Clause. He is seeking compensatory damages for his video recording equipment and legal fees as well as punitive damages, in a total amount exceeding $75,000.

He is represented by Caryn Groedel in Cleveland.