St. Louis Post – Dispatch, Jan. 27, 2003
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Green Acres is a graceful, hilly and wooded subdivision in north St. Louis County, with mostly brick homes and ready access to St. Louis to the south and Interstate 270 to the north. It’s in Bellefontaine Neighbors – the kind of place where you might expect neighbors to get along with each other.
But from the moment you drive into the subdivision these days, you can clearly see these words scrawled on the side of one of the houses: “This is our property. Tho shalt not take.” The words squarely face the house next door.
If you take that as a sign of trouble, you’re right. A resident of that first house, Keith Allen Dagenais, 42, faces charges of disturbing the peace and destruction of property and is under a court order to leave his neighbors alone. He has filed a charge of disturbing the peace against his neighbor, Patricia McIntosh, 38.
The incidents involve both racial and occult undertones. Dagenais is white and McIntosh is African-American; he claims he has been practicing witchcraft, not racism.
The feud started in April when Dagenais and his housemate moved in. There was a paved parking space at the rear of the driveway shared by the two houses. The parking space crossed the property line and was partially on his side.
Dagenais says he asked McIntosh to remove the concrete from his side and that she agreed. McIntosh has a different version. She says that two years ago, when she started to park her car back there, the city had required the paving – and her neighbor at the time readily agreed to it. “Why would I remove something the city summoned me to put down?” she said.
With that standoff, the trouble began. McIntosh has alleged that Dagenais erected a cross on the driveway, called her by racial names, hung a black doll by the neck in his window, and damaged her side of the driveway when he used a sledgehammer to break up the pavement on his side.
Police last month charged Dagenais with three counts of disturbing the peace and one count of destruction of property, with each count punishable by fines of up to $1,000. A court date was set for Feb. 12. Police have also sent their files to the FBI to determine whether the complaints can be prosecuted as a hate crime.
“I’ve been in this area for 10 years and never encountered anything like this before. When they moved in, all hell broke out,” said McIntosh, who lives with her children, ages 10 and 15.
In an interview, Dagenais acknowledged some of the acts but said they were not racist. He said they were performed in part as witchcraft in response to McIntosh’s refusal to remove the concrete. “They have turned it into a black and white thing,” he said. “I didn’t grow up racist.”
These events are described in police reports:
* On July 26, Dagenais constructed a wooden cross, placed it on the driveway and poured a liquid over the cross. The report says he was wearing a black skull cap and a black turtleneck. Dagenais said that for years he has practiced Wicca, a belief whose adherents practice a form of witchcraft. “I put up a cross. I was sitting out there in black trying to scare them,” he said. “I didn’t dress in a white cloak like the Ku Klux Klan.”
* On Aug. 15, McIntosh’s estranged husband was at her house and saw a black-faced doll clothed and hanging by the neck in a porch window of Dagenais’ house, facing toward the McIntosh home. The police report stated that a crucifix had been applied to the window with tape, and the garage door was painted with the number “666,” a biblical reference to the devil. Subdivision trustees told Dagenais to remove the items. Dagenais said the doll was actually a black cat figure dressed in a brown dress.
* On Dec. 2, McIntosh arrived home to find her neighbor’s vehicle partially blocking her driveway. When she got out of her car, Dagenais called her by a series of offensive names. Dagenais told police he had been raking leaves and drinking wine and had moved the car to sweep leaves. “Before I had a chance to move my car, Patricia got out of her car and swore at me. I in turn swore at her,” he said.
Police Chief Robert Pruett said he has been taking the matter seriously and has involved the FBI.
“Basically, it’s up to them to decide if this is, in fact, harassment,” he said.
McIntosh said her 10-year-old daughter has needed therapy and is now afraid to play outside. “Everybody just blows this up as a driveway issue and it isn’t,” she said. “If it is, it has gone to another level.
“When I walk out my door and when I pull up, I don’t know what’s coming,” she added. “I have two children . . . and I don’t want anything to happen to them.”
Dagenais said he had no intention of hurting the children. “When I learned her daughter had to go through therapy, I went over there and apologized,” he said. “I’m not going to do anything to affect the children because I love children.”
Things escalated again on Jan. 19, when police charged Dagenais with disturbing the peace after McIntosh said that he had followed her in his car as she drove from the house. She also complained that he has been v ideotaping her.
On Tuesday, Dagenais made a sworn complaint against McIntosh regarding an argument they had last month over his car blocking the driveway. She now faces a charge of disturbing the peace. On Wednesday, McIntosh got an order of protection in St. Louis County Court, barring Dagenais and his housemate from abusing, threatening, molesting or stalking her and from communicating with her in any manner.
Pruett said the city turned to the FBI because the city has no hate crime ordinance.
“If there is sufficient probable cause to believe that a crime occurred on the federal level, then it’s their prosecution, not ours,” he said. “All we are doing is saying there are two families here that have a dispute and apparently don’t get along.