LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Disagreements that boil over into shouting matches, finger-pointing and even fistfights are often part of neighborhood homeowners association meetings, but the kind of violence that erupted in Louisville leaving two dead is uncommon.
Mahmoud Yousef Hindi, 55, of Louisville pleaded not guilty to two murder charges and other counts Monday in Jefferson Circuit Court and said he needs a public defender. Prosecutors have said they are considering seeking the death penalty against the Jordanian-trained doctor accused of opening fire at a homeowners meeting earlier this month, killing two members of the board.
Authorities have not pinpointed what exactly caused the outburst on Sept. 6 in a community church. Police did say that Hindi angrily had confronted the Spring Creek Homeowners Association over a fence it said didn't meet its height or design requirements in the upscale neighborhood of Louisville. The group also objected to his driveway.
Frustration over such unpopular decisions can erupt and become deadly.
"I have never seen a situation where emotions become so raw," said David F. Feingold, an attorney who represents homeowners associations in the San Francisco Bay area. "It's like carrying around nitroglycerin. You just have to handle it very carefully."
In Arizona, a man was convicted of murdering two women when he opened fire at a homeowners meeting in 2000. Richard Glassel, who was sentenced to death, had run-ins with his HOA over an awning and air-conditioning units.
In Chicago, a man was convicted of murder in the 2004 shooting death of a 75-year-old woman who was a board member of his condominium association. Another woman was wounded. The shooter, Zdislaw Kuchlewski, had been evicted from his condo, the result of more than a year's dispute with his condo association's board over infractions of building rules.
The man said at his trial that he was distraught over his eviction but did not plot the attack.
The problem is that homeowners don't always buy into the group concept of an association, one expert said.
"They feel that my home is my castle and I should be able to do what I want," said Evan McKenzie, an associate professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
There are approximately 300,000 homeowners associations in the United States, according to HOA-USA.com, a website that tracks and provides advice to associations nationwide. That number represents over 40 million households, and 70 percent of associations are managed by elected volunteers, the group says. And the job is not for everyone, with people not wanting to get involved in judging their neighbors' property.
McKenzie pointed to a more than 20-year-old statewide review of HOAs and condo associations in California that showed that more than 40 percent of board members surveyed say they had been threatened with violence.
"If they serve on the board for a couple of years, it's not at all unusual that a board member would be threatened or would at least feel threatened," McKenzie said. "Because people get really angry about this stuff."