Jo Chavez thought her three-bedroom brick home on South Ash Street offered a little piece of Rim Country paradise. So she settled in with her son and pets and hung a sign by the front door reading “Rest and Relaxation.”
But an escalating dispute with a neighbor turned paradise into purgatory after he put up his own sign: “A fat pig lives next door.”
On Friday, a Payson judge gave Chavez a one-year order of protection against Dave Conway and chastised the longtime resident.
“I think you are a bit of a neighborhood bully and I think the behavior has been bad on both sides, but I think it is egregious on your side. Grow up, get some help, mind your business,” said Judge Paul Larkin.
Still, just hours after the hearing, Larkin also signed Conway’s own order of protection against Chavez.
The mutual orders should limit contact between the pair — and hopefully restore peace to the neighborhood.
Bullies can show up many places besides the school yard.
During Friday’s hearing, Conway didn’t deny he’d hung the fat pig sign with an arrow pointing to Chavez’s home, put tow away signs on her vehicles, weed whacked her flowers and nailed dead fish to a tree trunk next to her yard.
Conway said he is just keeping the neighborhood in order and the whole thing started with Chavez’s potbelly pig. Conway said when it rains, pig waste flows into his back yard and aggravates his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
But Judge Larkin said no one appointed him the neighborhood supervisor and he should mind his own business.
On Monday, the order appeared to have done nothing to stop Conway. Chavez called the police after Conway reportedly took down a fence between their homes. Conway has since taken out his own injunction against Chavez, saying she harasses him and his family. In his petition, Conway says Chavez takes pictures of his family and removed signs from rabbit cages in his yard.
Neighbors told the Roundup Conway is a bully who frightens them. They wouldn’t go on record for fear of retaliation.
One neighbor, Pat Ranson, said Conway could be very rude, but also turn on the charm when he wanted. She worries what could happen if things escalate any more between Chavez and Conway. “I am thinking of the Hatfields and McCoys,” she said.
Home Sweet Home
In October 2012, Chavez and her son, Rio, moved into the beige, brick home and settled down with their three dogs and pig. Chavez, who collects Victorian furniture, decorated the small home, the first she had bought on her own.
She thought she had hit the lottery when she got the home for $59,000, since it was originally listed at $159,000. Now she understands the deep discount.
She said the harassment started shortly after she moved in.
Conway complained to her about parked vehicles, the placement of her trash can, her pig and pups and the drainage system.
Chavez said she tried to comply for a year. But when she returned from a funeral in September and found her flowers out front killed, she had had enough.
A call for help
Chavez called the police when she found the dead flowers and has called them several more times.
Officers offered little relief, she said. Conway readily admitted to his actions, but officers told Chavez they couldn’t do anything about the actions he took on his own property.
At Friday’s hearing, Chavez laid out more than a dozen incidents. She said Conway threatened her service dog, put tow-away signs on her vehicles, threw newspapers on her roof, placed an archery shooting target toward her yard, put soiled rabbit cages up against her fence, hung dead fish in the trees facing her home and set up a video camera pointing into her yard. Most egregiously, Conway posted a sign in his front yard saying a fat pig lived next door.
“I thought it was terrible that he put up that sign,” Ranson said. “Who is mean like that?”
Chavez said she fears for the safety of both herself and her son, Rio.
Rio, who attends PHS, said he never is bullied at school and does not understand why anyone would pick on them.
Chavez said Rio has developed ulcers from the stress of living next to Conway.
“No child should have to live like this,” she said.
In court, Conway admitted to many of those actions, including hanging up the pig sign, putting tow-away stickers on her cars and cutting down her flowers. But he had an explanation for it all.
Conway said he was frustrated Chavez parked her vehicles at a neighbor’s home because the owner of the property had given her permission to do so as long she helped clean up the weeds. However, he said she instead let the weeds grow out of control. He said he hoped if her vehicles were towed, the weeds would get cleaned up.
Conway admitted he weed whacked her flowers after she left for a few weeks and they died.
He also admitted he put up the pig sign after she refused to address the drainage problem. “I keep the neighborhood clean. If I see weeds, I cut them down; if I see trash, I pick it up,” he said.
Conway denied ever harassing her service dog or shooting arrows into her yard. He said his grandson shoots at the target facing her yard, but has never overshot.
When he moved her garbage can, he did so out of courtesy. He could not remember throwing her papers on the roof, but didn’t deny he hung fish in his trees. He said he was drying them out for his grandson.
Conway balked when Chavez handed the judge pictures of his yard, which included a shot of his confederate flag. “It was on my tree and my First Amendment right lets me put it up,” he said.
He added that Chavez and her son harass him by taking pictures of everyone that visits him.
A new sign
Frustrated with Conway’s pig sign, Chavez several weeks ago put up her own sign.
It read: “Honk if you hate bullys.” She added a roll of purple ribbon and encouraged people to tie a ribbon if they supported her.
Many people stopped and tied a ribbon to the fence and several told her how upset they were with Conway, she said.
Not to be outdone, Conway put up another sign: “Bullys are people too.”
Conway asked the judge Friday to squash Chavez’s protection order, saying it would be too difficult to live next to someone for a year under such circumstances.
“If I go outside to talk to my kids and she calls the cops on me, you can’t do that for a year,” he said. “I think it is time we bury the ax and get on and live like neighbors like we should be. I am sorry if all this upsets you (to Chavez).”
After listening to both sides, Larkin issued his decision.
“For some reason, Mr. Conway, you have taken it upon yourself to anoint yourself the neighborhood watch person and doer. And sometimes you may think you are doing the right thing, but sometimes people don’t want you intruding on their life,” he said.
Larkin said just as Conway has a right to hang the Confederate flag, Chavez has the right to have dead flowers in her yard. And if a neighbor let Chavez park vehicles on their property, he had no business trying to enforce some agreement about the weeds.
“Who the heck are you?” Larkin said.
“What?” Conway said, looking to his daughter who had sat beside him during the hearing, restating things he couldn’t hear.
“He is basically saying it is none of your business and to mind your own business,” Conway’s daughter said.
“It is always my business,” Conway said.
“Dad, the flowers aren’t your business. The neighbor’s house down the street is none of your business. You need to mind your own business when it comes to that,” she said.
“And with the target itself, I am guessing your yard is somewhat rectangular so you have three or four directions you could place that.
“You do it intentionally, I suspect, just a way to push her buttons,” he said.
Conway said he would get his own injunction.
On Saturday, Conway knocked on the Roundup’s door and told editor Pete Aleshire he had taken out the paperwork for a petition.
Chavez said she will fight the petition and in the meantime she is looking at selling.
“What more can I do?” she said.