Philadelphia Extreme Neighbor Feud Requires Video Cameras, Lawyers

PHOTO: Firefighter, John Clark, left, and neighbor Diane Butler in Roxborough, PA., July 6th, 2011.PlayJarid Barringer; Steven M. Falk/ Philadelphia Daily News
WATCH Caught in the Act: Nasty Neighbor Fights

As long as there have been neighborhoods, there have been neighbor disputes. But the squabbles don't typically involve police, lawyers, counseling and video cameras for a trip down the driveway.

For the Clark and Butler families on Voigt Street in Philadelphia, however, this is their day-to-day routine.

The families have been arguing for at least three years, although they can't even agree on exactly how long. The battle apparently began with a parking issue, also a point of contention.

John Clark said neighbor Richard Butler parked his car in Clark's driveway. Butler said his car was never in the driveway and that the issue was about a parallel parking spot in front of the houses.

"They both don't like one another," said John Cerrone, commanding officer of Philadelphia's 5th Police District. "It's almost like a tit for tat."

Cerrone estimates that his police department has already been called 10 or 11 times this year regarding the dispute.

Even though the fighting began as a parking issue, it has escalated to allegations of vulgar name-calling, broken lawn ornaments, workplace informants, anonymous death threats and legal action.

Butler often goes outside with a video camera, per the advice of his lawyer. This began as a way to possibly discourage the alleged yelling and bad behavior. When it didn't, his lawyer told him to use it to capture the incidents in case evidence is ever needed.

On the phone, John Clark, 45, pardons his rambling and describes himself as "a little aggravated." But Clark is clearly more than just a little annoyed. Between stories, he pauses to take stifled deep breaths, seemingly in an attempt to keep his blood pressure down.

Aside from broken lawn ornaments and vulgar shout-outs, each man seems to have a point of contention that was the tipping point for them.

For Clark, it was when Butler complained about him to his employer. Clark is a firefighter and said Butler crossed a line when he did so. Clark said that Butler has even called the fire department five times in one night, "accusing me and my wife of all the things they were guilty of," Clark said.

Butler's lawyer, Joel Benecke, tells a different story. He said that after his client had contacted police multiple times to complain about Clark, he was told by police to contact the fire department. Benecke maintains that his client was only following a police suggestion.

The tipping point for Butler was when, he alleges, Clark called his 9-year-old son a derogatory name. Butler said it was one thing for his neighbor to verbally attack him, but it was another to attack his child.

Clark denies yelling at the child and said the derogatory name was directed at Butler.

"I can't even go outside without being screamed or hollered at," Butler said. "I'm afraid of this man. I'm afraid of what he'll do. I don't trust him."

Then there was the episode with a mediator, which neither man agrees on either.

The two couples met with the community relations division of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. At the meeting, the couples were asked to take turns speaking and not interrupt each other.

No Resolution in Sight

Clark said he and his wife Tricia, 47, sat quietly and listened to Butler and his wife Diane, 44, say what they wanted to say. But when it was their turn, he said, the Butlers repeatedly interrupted, yelling about how they were lying. Clark said the Butlers stormed out several times and were coaxed back in several times until the mediator threw his hands in the air and gave up.

Butler denies this story. He said John Clark was aggressively leaning over the table and screaming at him and his wife. He said they did get up and leave a few times because they did not like how he was behaving.

The Butlers have a lawyer after they say Clark made a motion to sue them last year but never followed through. The Clarks have also sought legal advice in the past.

"All we want is for them to leave us alone," Butler said. "We don't care about money."

Said Clark: "I wanted them not only to stop, but to pay for what they were doing. This is something for a TV movie. You wouldn't think things like this happen in real life."

There is one thing the two parties agree on: They're not moving.

"No way," Clark said. "I'm not going to run. I want them punished in the eye of the law."

Butler said, "No, not moving. I've put too much time, effort, blood, sweat and tears into my house to move."

With no resolution in sight and no indication that anyone is going to budge, commanding officer Cerrone has one hope for ending the battle.

"You would hope people would think logically and decide they've had enough," he said. "You don't have to love one another; you just have to live civilly."