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Neighbors trade accusations

A woman says a neighbor directed racial slurs at her granddaughter. He denies it and says the woman is the problem.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 11, 2001

CARROLLWOOD -- In the 11 years Maureen Norbury has lived on Swain Avenue, she has never had a problem with any neighbor that could come close to the one she's having now.

She says she and her family have been harassed by Richard Kuhar since he moved in across the street from her about nine months ago.

"My physical and emotional health has been severely changed due to the enormous fear we are forced to live in," Norbury said.

But if you ask Kuhar, he'll tell you Norbury is the problem.

"She is doing everything she can to get us out of here," Kuhar said.

Her accusations against him and his against her have led to angry confrontations in the street, 911 calls, restraining order petitions and, a federal civil rights investigation.

"There's definitely a problem," said sheriff's spokesman Lt. Rod Reder. "We can't camp out over there, but we are monitoring this the best we can."

Several of Norbury's police complaints allege that Kuhar has directed racial insults at her 3-year-old granddaughter, who lives with her and is biracial. Norbury said Kuhar has harassed her granddaughter verbally while she plays in the front yard.

Kuhar, a 41-year-old felon, denied allegations that he is racist or that he has harassed the child. None of the law enforcement officers who have investigated the allegations has heard insults or seen harassment. The most they've been able to do is write reports.

While neighbors are aware of the tension between Norbury and Kuhar, none say they've heard or seen anything either.

Still, both parties say Norbury's allegation of racial harassment has prompted the FBI to make some inquiries in this Logan Gate subdivision.

"When the FBI gets complaints of civil rights violations or hate crimes, we investigate locally and forward our findings to the Justice Department in Washington, D.C.," said FBI agent Sara Oates, who, according to bureau policy, was not allowed to acknowledge that an investigation actually exists. "They make the final determination on whether we prosecute or close a case."

Although the federal investigation might turn up a civil rights violation, Reder said there does not appear to be evidence so far of a hate crime.

"There have been some allegations made about verbal abuse, but unless it's coupled with a crime, you don't have a hate crime," Reder said. "You can shout racial slurs, but you have to have a crime coupled with it for a hate crime."

Kuhar resents all the attention Norbury has drawn to their dispute, claiming that he is a victim.

"The sheriff's office and the FBI know her accusations are all false," Kuhar said. "They know where the trouble is coming from."

However, the sheriff's office is pursuing two complaints against Kuhar.

One alleges trespassing on Norbury's property. The other is a complaint filed by sheriff's community resource deputy Christine Fleet, accusing Kuhar of making false statements to obtain an injunction against Norbury. Reder said state prosecutors are reviewing both complaints.

Among her neighbors, Norbury is known for sitting outside and smoking cigarettes. She'll watch the cars drive by and chat with people on the sidewalks while her granddaughter plays in the front yard.

"She's the one who knows all her neighbors and is always friendly and outside in the yard," said Joan Moroni, who lived next to Norbury for 10 years, but recently moved to Plantation.

Norbury's vigilance triggered a high-profile criminal investigation that prosecutors eventually dropped. While listening to a police scanner, Norbury said she overheard two Sickles High School sophomores talking about a school bombing during a cordless phone conversation in their homes.

The teens were arrested on felony charges, held overnight and threatened with expulsion. But State Attorney Mark Ober said prosecutors did not have the evidence needed to bring a case against them.

Kuhar is an auto body mechanic with a record for charges such as battery, domestic violence, disorderly conduct, disorderly intoxication and opposing law enforcement officers.

In all, Kuhar was found guilty of 15 offenses in Hillsborough County from 1993 to 1994. He served time in state prison from September 1994 to August 1995 for possession of a forged or stolen license in Polk County.

Norbury has criticized the sheriff's office for not acting sooner and for not doing enough to maintain peace in her neighborhood. Reder makes no apologies.

"I'm not sure what else we can do to help," Reder said. "We've been in there numerous times. We've asked for mediation, we've written reports and testified at an injunction hearing.

"The community resource deputies say they've filed paperwork asking for mediation, which is scheduled in the near future. That's what we do with these neighborhood disputes."

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