War Zone

Among the defendants in a recent lawsuit is Sheriff Steve Bernal, who with several deputies is accused of ignoring complaints.

It has all the makings of a Lifetime movie: A woman buys property in rural South County with plans of starting an organic farm. But what began as a dream turns into a nightmare. Her neighbors harass her, she alleges, and their frequent target practice makes her fear for her life. Her house rattles during low helicopter fly-bys. Local sheriff’s deputies, meanwhile, are friendly with the neighbors, whose family has owned the property for over a century.

At least, that’s how she tells it. Looked at another way, the woman’s many calls to the sheriff’s department could signal a person unhinged. Except other neighbors who say they are sometimes afraid to go outside corroborate much of her story.

Such is the essence of a complaint filed last December by Lockwood resident Maureen Quinn, who alleges her neighbor, Steven Tankersley, and members of his family intentionally inflicted emotional distress on her for over 10 years. The Monterey County Sheriff’s Office and several deputies are also named in the suit for allowing the alleged harassment to continue.

Sheriff Steve Bernal, who was a sheriff’s deputy when the harassment allegedly occurred, is a defendant in the suit and visited both properties several times when responding to Quinn’s calls. Bernal is unwilling to say much about the case, but he rejects the accusation of conspiracy: “That’s a false allegation,” he says.

The dispute between Quinn and the Tankersleys began in 2004, when Steven Tankersley allegedly trespassed on her property and asked, “Why did you build here?” the complaint states.

Over the next 10 years, Quinn called the Sheriff’s Office scores of times to report Tankersley was threatening her, or that he and his friends were shooting weapons dangerously close to her home.He was never arrested as a result of the calls, but Quinn was arrested in 2008 after Tankersley reported she allegedly fired a gun at him as he drove by. The county District Attorney’s office dropped the case for lack of evidence.

Tankersley says he’d love to tell all about the longstanding dispute (which has previously involved mediation and restraining orders against him), but his attorney advised him against speaking.

Quinn says she is traumatized.

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“Deputies are calling it disturbing the peace, but our lives have been threatened by these actions,” she says.

County attorneys filed a demurrer March 26, stating the complaint failed to show evidence of conspiracy. Quinn’s attorney, John Klopfenstein, will argue otherwise at an April 24 hearing. “It’s like the Wild West out there, and the deputies treat it that way,” he says.

A report made by sheriff’s deputies last spring includes interviews with other neighbors, and they indicate Quinn’s fears might be well-founded. They describe helicopters orbiting the area at the height of a tree, and regular weekend gunfire – sometimes with high-powered weapons – starting at 10am.

From a synopsis of an interview with neighbors Steven and Joyce Yates last spring: “Joyce said she feels like they are in a war zone. The main concern is that Tankersley should shoot in a safe direction,” it reads. “He will do what he wants until someone reigns him in.”

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