Steamboat Springs Saying he was worried that a neighborhood dispute could escalate into violence, Routt County Judge James Garrecht issued a restraining order Wednesday prohibiting Kay Sieverding from contacting her neighbor, Jane Bennett, wife of City Council President Kevin Bennett.
The judge's ruling came after a hearing that lasted more than four hours and included a sharp exchange involving Sieverding's husband, David, and Bennett's attorney, Randall Klauzer.
Sieverding and Bennett live on Princeton Avenue in Old Town Steamboat Springs. The two families have not gotten along for years, but the level of acrimony has been growing this summer. The most recent incident happened Aug. 29, when witnesses said Sieverding stood in the street in front of the Bennett home and screamed "at the top of her lungs" that the Bennetts were violating her constitutional rights and breaking the law.
The dispute has boiled over this summer because of Sieverding's insistence that a garage addition and remodeling of a small log cabin on the Bennetts' property are in violation of city regulations.
Garrecht told Sieverding Wednesday not to come within 10 yards of Jane Bennett in the future. She also was ordered not to go onto the Bennetts' property.
"If she's near you, turn around and walk the other way," Garrecht told Sieverding. "Get yourself 10 yards away."
Garrecht referenced a tragic incident in Denver this year when tension between neighbors over parking disputes resulted in the shooting death of a schoolteacher and his daughter.
"I'm concerned about the escalating nature of this," Garrecht said. "I think more safety than harm is going to be accomplished by this (restraining order)."
Sieverding, who told the judge she believes she has acted properly throughout the summer, represented herself in the hearing, but her son and husband were seated at the table with her and actively advised her.
At one point in the proceedings, David Sieverding leaned over to Klauzer and said something to him in low tones. Klauzer leapt to his feet and loudly exclaimed, "What? I'm a son of a bitch? I'm a son of a bitch?"
At that point several people seated in the courtroom called out to Garrecht, "I heard it, too."
"People, this is a courtroom," Garrecht responded. "If you want to have a dogfight, go outside."
The judge then required David Sieverding to leave the advocate's table and take a seat in the audience.
Jane Bennett sought the restraining order after an Aug. 29 incident that began, she said, as she returned from buying produce, heard a car honking its horn and looked in the mirror to see Sieverding and her son following closely in their car. Bennett said she drove straight to her home to avoid contact with Sieverding.
"I got scared because I've had problems before," Bennett said. "I saw Mrs. Sieverding come charging at me through her yard. She started jumping up and down and screaming in the scariest voice, 'Just because you are the wife of the City Council president doesn't mean you can break the law.' I was so scared."
Bennett said she went inside and called the police.
Sieverding faces misdemeanor criminal harassment charges in connection with the incident, the judge observed in court.
Sieverding called Steamboat police officers Richard Brown and Kirby Blackman to testify about their visits to her neighborhood to respond to complaints. In response to direct questions from Sieverding, both officers said they had not observed her displaying physical aggression toward her neighbors.
"Did you ever see me act in a violent or threatening manor?" Sieverding asked Brown.
"No," he replied.
"Have you ever observed me behaving threateningly? Did I ever act in any way that seemed irrational?" Sieverding asked Blackman.
"Not at the times when I've been called," Blackman responded.
In her closing argument, Sieverding told the judge this has been the "strangest summer of her life."
"My honest belief, was that everything I've done over the summer was honest and proper," she said.
Sieverding has objected strenuously this summer to construction projects occurring on the Bennett property at the end of Princeton, a dead end street. She contends that the size of an addition being built above a freestanding, two-car garage violates the city development code. She also alleges code violations related to the Bennetts' conversion of an existing log shed into guest quarters.
City Planning Director Wendie Schulenburg testified Wednesday that she has responded in detail to Sieverding's concerns and has told her that the Bennetts' construction is in compliance with the code.
Klauzer argued that Sieverding's behavior, including the wide distribution of leaflets criticizing the Bennetts and the city's handling of her concerns, was in violation of the terms of a mediated agreement the Sieverdings and the Bennetts signed this year. The city paid $4,000 for a mediator to work on the agreement between the two families. It was meant to restore peace to their neighborhood.
Klauzer told Garrecht that failure to act now "would allow something horrible to occur here."
"This is personal abuse," Klauzer told Garrecht. "This is not going to stop, judge, until you stop this woman from harassing Jane Bennett."
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