Lakeland Avenue resident David B. Heller was convicted last month in Lakewood Municipal Court of disorderly conduct following a skirmish that occurred when he confronted a couple of seventh-graders over their after-hours use of the Kauffman Park basketball courts.
Heller and other property owners who live immediately adjacent to the court have spoken at several city council meetings over the past few years to express their unhappiness with the level of noise, rowdiness and foul language generated by basketball players in the park.
According to the police incident report, Heller called police on May 2 at around 8:20 p.m. when he saw a couple of juveniles playing basketball in an area that is supposed to be off-limits after 8:00 p.m.
Heller, who telephoned police 11 times in April about related concerns, took a stroll past the hoops shortly afterwards to see if the kids had been shooed away. Spotting the pair on the basketball court, he approached them and announced that the court was closed. He later told police that he wasn’t yelling at them and didn’t raise his hands above his waist.
The two kids, ages 12 and 13, told police they began playing basketball at around 7:45 p.m. and were later approached by the 58-year-old Heller who yelled at them for playing on the court after-hours. Heller threatened to take their basketball, according to the boys, and either throw or kick it.
Juvenile: I ‘did not want to have to hit an old man.’
One of the boys told Heller they didn’t realize the court was closed because the gate wasn’t locked. The same boy, when asked by police if he felt scared or concerned by man’s actions, said he suspected Heller may have been drinking and “he did not want to have to hit an old man.”
The confrontation was witnessed by a 32-year-old Lakewood man who was talking on a cell phone in a car parked to the east of the court. He initially thought it was a family dispute, and didn’t do anything. When the kids appeared to get scared, the observer left his car to get a better look at the situation.
The man told police he heard Heller “yelling at the kids to get the ‘[expletive-deleted]‘ out of the park and that he has lived there all his life.” The man also heard Heller threaten to throw the kids’ bikes or ball over the fence.
The man told Heller to leave the kids alone and warned him he was calling the police. Heller responded that he’d already called the police and challenged the man to come closer.
At that point, another bystander, a 48-year-old Rocky River web designer, who had been using a cell phone and was sitting in another car next to the basketball court, saw that the kids were scared and beginning to back away from Heller.
Neighbor alleged to have taken swing at bystander who intervened
The Rocky River man, who admitted to police that he hadn’t been in a fight since he was 11 years old, left his car, entered the basketball court area and told Heller to leave the kids alone.
After they exchanged words, the man told police Heller attempted to punch him. In response, the Rocky River man pushed Heller and then possibly struck him in his eyeglasses, causing a small laceration that bled.
An unidentified male separated the aggressors just as police arrived, more than 15 minutes after Heller’s initial complaint call.
Heller declined medical attention for his cut and the Rocky River man declined to press assault charges. The police charged Heller with disorderly conduct. He had been convicted in 1997 of the same charge.
Police talked with a park security guard who showed up at 8:50 p.m. to lock the basketball court gate. He told police he worked part-time and didn’t have a set schedule. Police told Heller they would check into the situation with the gate and follow-up with him at a later date.
Heller appeared at the May 20 meeting of the City Council to share his continuing concerns about the city’s inability to ensure the basketball court gates are locked at the appropriate times.
Without mentioning his court clash, he said he was disappointed with the Lakewood Outdoor Basketball Committee, the volunteer organization that spear-headed the return of public basketball courts to Kauffman Park, as well as by the city administration for their inconsistent efforts to clear the courts in the evenings.
Mayor admits to ‘some sloppiness’ in locking gate after-hours
Heller did add that neighborhood police officer Ted Morley was going to acquire another lock for the gate.
Mayor Michael Summers acknowledged there was “some sloppiness in April” in regard to locking the gate. He hoped that the new half-courts at Lakewood Park would lead to a lower volume of traffic at Kauffman Park. It was a matter he said he would continue to study.
The Mayor said he might add a second guard to Kauffman Park, although he seemed to downplay the possibility that the park itself was overly noisy. He said he had been monitoring the traffic on the hoops courts via the city’s security cameras and didn’t see much cause for concern
He asked for Heller’s continued patience with the situation.