HOA Retreat at Twin Lakes, Florida, is about to be owned. And by owned, I mean sued and found responsible for the killing of 17 year old Trayvon Martin. Every owner in the Retreat at Twin Lakes HOA should get ready to open their pocketbook.
Briefly, for those not familiar with the case – HOA Block Watch captain George Zimmerman shot to death Trayvon while the boy was returning to his residence after purchasing Skittles and an ice tea. George Zimmerman claims self defense, even though he chased the boy after the police told him not to, and the deadliest thing Trayvon had on him was 2.17oz of tasty rainbow.
Here’s why the HOA is about to pay out a whole lot of cash:
- Mr. Zimmerman was performing an activity authorized and backed by the HOA– performing the duties of Block Watch within the neighbourhood. An HOA newsletter confirms this role in the community.
- The HOA, in backing Mr. Zimmerman as a Captain, authenticates a person who had been charged in 2005 for battery of a police offer, and had previously a restraining order filed against him.
- Mr. Zimmerman failed to conform to any of the neighbourhood watch mandated training. Block watch clearly indicates that watch members are there to observe only, and never confront suspicious persons. They are “eyes and ears only”.
- Mr. Zimmerman was recorded actively chasing Trayvon while on the phone with 911 (audio of call). The 911 operator also indicated that this action was unnecessary. This was definitely an act to confront Trayvon.
- While carrying a gun is not illegal in this situation, neighbourhood watch members are not permitted to carry firearms.
- Mr. Zimmerman made 46 calls to 911 since the beginning of 2011 to report disturbances, break-ins, windows left open and other incidents. Not only is it reported that he was out on his rounds for the watch, it is reasonable to assume as this encounter also started with a 911 to report a suspicious person, he was operating as a neighbourhood watch member as he was the 46 other times.
It’s a pretty simple line to draw the HOA as responsible for failing to maintain the required screening and standards required of their volunteers. Unlike a criminal prosecution, a civil case needs significantly less burden of proof or certainty. It is well documented that a person found innocent of a crime may still face significant monetary loss in a civil court. In this case it won’t be a person found liable in civil court, but the HOA.
I have said before that the Block Watch program is a phenomenal program, and every condominium and HOA that faces a crime issue should operate one. The Block Watch program has operated for over 50 years with astounding success. I still stand by the success.
The issue is an HOA must take the steps required. A formal relationship must be made between the community and local law enforcement. All members of the neighborhood watch must attend training – both at the beginning and ongoing. The HOA needs to create, back, and act on the mission statement: “eyes and ears only” – and repeat that message to the volunteers and the community constantly.
Importantly, the HOA needs to have a firm, written, commitment from each volunteer that they will abide by all the recommendations and requirements of both the national neighborhood watch program and local police authority.
And seriously, if this event makes you afraid to have a neighborhood watch – don’t be. Just stick to the program and enforce a role of observation only. That approach works most awesomely. A neighborhood watch that observes only, and doesn’t carry weapons, is both safe to themselves, safe to the community, and safe to 17 year olds coming home with a bit of ice tea and candy.