Another Case of Guilt by Association
Article Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times

By Dana Parsons
Published March 21, 2004

If a middle-aged man beats up a little old lady, you don't get hung up over the whys and wherefores. There's not much a guy could say in his defense that would make you say, "Oh, now I understand why you did it."

The sensible reaction is, "Next case, please."

So, if, as Orange County sheriff's deputies allege, Charles Mineo attacked 78-year-old Lucy Deabreu, tried to strangle her and left her with a concussion, at least one missing tooth and scrapes to her head and face, well … that's why they invented defense attorneys.

Yet, before we move on…. 

If, as has been suggested in the initial round of press accounts, Mineo's frustration with his homeowners association boiled over and he took it out on Deabreu, who was one of the association officers, someone should ask themselves some tough questions.

That someone is association board members in all communities who have the authority to keep things running smoothly and the power to drive people nuts.

They sometimes do both with seemingly equal ease.

I'm merely suggesting that in a country where more people than ever are living under homeowners association rules, it wouldn't kill board members to engage in a little introspection.

It might save their lives.

Many of us have known crackpot neighbors, the loose cannons whose very presence makes you jumpy. They're terrorists, of a sort, in that you're not sure when they're going to go off.

Unfortunately, there's no worse foil for them than some association board members, blinded by their own exalted sense of importance.

I know these people — at least, by phone. They've verbally ripped me over the years whenever I've deigned to take the side in print of a tenant who fights the association. To hear them tell it, anyone who disputes them is either an anarchist or, more likely, a renter.

They don't understand why any sane person would have a problem with their authority. They don't understand that some people can't deal with the police or the phone company, much less private citizens telling them they can't leave their garage door open.

I'm a big believer in community rules and know how kooky some tenants can be. But who's the kook when an association tells parents what color they can paint their children's swing set, as at least one Orange County association did years ago.

While perhaps not typical, neither is it unique.

No one would call Deabreu lucky, but it could have been worse. The poster boy for homeowner violence has to be Richard Glassel, the 61-year-old Phoenix-area man who in April 2000 fatally shot two association board members in a retirement community and wounded three others after bursting into their meeting. Authorities said that Glassel announced during the attack that he was getting even with the board for problems it has caused him over landscaping.

That is the thread by which some people hang. Obviously, there aren't many Glassels out there, but there is a lot of anger in society.

The scary part is, you don't always see it coming. After deputies arrested Mineo, a friend of the 47-year-old accountant told The Times: "He's a good fellow. He really is. I don't know what happened."

When people sense that the person lording power over them is being unreasonable, the resentments and frustrations build. Sometimes, they explode with disastrous consequences.

Homeowners association board members can satisfy themselves simply by saying that violence is the fault of the perpetrator.

It is, to be sure. 

But if only for their own preservation, why not take a moment and ask why that violence sometimes comes looking for them.

Meeting turns violent; two arrested