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GOODLAND — He was called the neighborhood bully.
For years, Richard "Blinkie" Karnes of Goodland taunted his neighbors, cursed at them, antagonized children, sprayed chemicals on a senior citizen, ran over a handyman and threatened to kill neighbors with a gun or by tossing them in the canal, the neighbors say. Five of them obtained restraining orders to protect themselves, but they say it didn't stop his foul mouth, harassment or attacks. So some of them sued.
Last week, a Collier circuit court jury awarded $1,654,000 to Leo and Anna Poupour, Christopher Kohlmeyer, Jay McMillen and his business, All Marine Services, agreeing the neighbors had been assaulted and defamed, and suffered from emotional distress.
"We're hoping it's over," said 74-year-old Anna Popour, who moved to Goodland in 1999 with her retired firefighter husband, Leo, expecting a quiet, waterfront retreat in a friendly fishing village. "The best thing is they validated what we went through.
"There was no way to stop him. That's the reason we filed the lawsuit," she said of the 2007 lawsuit that came to trial years later. "It was escalating. We couldn't take it anymore."
Leo Popour, 74, said Collier sheriff's deputies and arrests had no effect on Karnes, who sprayed him (Popour) with chemicals and threatened him or to "do something bad" to his East Palm Avenue home.
"I had to buy a gun. Why?" Leo Popour asked. "To defend my wife and myself."
The verdict came after jurors heard eight plaintiffs' witnesses during a two-day trial before Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt, who denied Richard and Lisa Karnes' attempts to delay the trial.
Jurors agreed the 52-year-old Karnes committed assaults and batteries, inflicted emotional distress, exposed neighbors to ridicule and contempt, and defamed them with curses, sexual accusations and rumors of sexual diseases and preferences.
Jurors awarded the 74-year-old Leo Popour, whose health declined, $800,000, finding he'd been a target four times; his wife, who was repeatedly cursed at and questioned about sexual acts, was awarded $200,000; and the couple was awarded an additional $100,000 for trespass.
Jurors awarded Chris Kohlmeyer, who was 15 when the harassment started in 2005, $35,000.
McMillen, 54, won $510,125 after jurors agreed he was assaulted, defamed and that Karnes invaded his privacy and trespassed.
Jurors agreed Lisa and Richard Karnes interfered with McMillen's mobile repair business, All Marine Services Inc., and caused nearby Walker's Marine to stop repairs, and that the Karneses committed abuse of process by repeatedly complaining to government agencies, alleging violations of regulations and laws.
Jurors also found Richard and Lisa Karnes conspired with each other against McMillen, whose company contended it lost 20 percent of its revenues.
Contacted by phone Tuesday, Karnes, who went through three lawyers before representing himself and his wife at last week's trial, wouldn't say why he didn't present any witnesses or evidence. He built his case through cross-examination of witnesses and closing arguments.
"I desperately want to talk," Karnes said Tuesday. "Can I? I don't think I can right now. ... We're looking at our options."
But he pointed out he'd denied the allegations in his answer to the lawsuit and affirmative defenses and maintained he was the victim, that his neighbors violated laws and the judicial system was on their side.
"We have security cameras. I supported my claims with what was occurring," he said. "Up until Thursday, they had both myself and my wife tied. We're getting our life back."
Attorney Jon Parrish of Naples said Karnes developed a reputation for his actions and set up the security cameras to spy on neighbors, to see when they were outside. Deputies were repeatedly called, Parrish said, but often did nothing, saying it was the neighbors' word against Karnes'.
Parrish said it all began when Leo Popour wanted to build a pad to store his boat, causing Karnes to lose his temper and a deputy to urge the Popours to build a fence. Parrish said Karnes would repeatedly blink, ball up his fists, and lose his temper before all of the episodes.
When Karnes was arrested, Parrish said, prosecutors typically dropped the charges.
Court records show a misdemeanor, obstructing an officer, ended in pretrial diversion and anger management before it was dropped. Records show arrests dating to 1988 for batteries, resisting arrest, breach of peace — even felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a road rage incident in which he was accused of running over a handyman; it was dropped due to "insufficient evidence."
"Do you think that would happen in Pelican Bay?" Parrish asked. "This is like a
"They (neighbors) came to me because they weren't getting any relief," he said, noting that Karnes called Collier code enforcement 180 times. "The guy was relentless. He wouldn't quit. The objective was to make him stop and get him to leave. They just wanted to live in peace."
The neighbors say they're thankful the jury agreed they'd suffered.
"For us, it was justice, vindication," McMillen said.
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