ST. LOUIS • A man banned from the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood for 17 months after prosecutors accused him of bullying outsiders and newcomers was sentenced to probation today for the one charge that stuck.
Dan Scott's sentence on the harassment charge from St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Noble also came with a lecture: Scott must learn to control his anger, and consider moving out of his longtime neighborhood if he can't communicate better with the new neighbors.
"If you screw this up," Noble scolded, "it opens the door to a more severe sentence."
Scott, 44, had faced up to a year behind bars for the single count of misdemeanor harassment. At his trial in November, Scott faced five harassment charges and two counts of obstructing government operations, all misdemeanors. One of the alleged victims was Alderman Joe Roddy. Scott was dubbed the "neighborhood bully" by prosecutors. But the jury acquitted Scott of all but a single harassment charge involving a woman hired to paint fire hydrants and traffic signal boxes.
Noble sentenced Scott to one year of probation and ordered him to perform 40 hours of community service and undergo anger-management training.
The prosecutor asked the judge to bar Scott from a community garden, and said that some residents wanted him banned from all neighborhood association meetings. Nick Zotos, the defense attorney for Scott, called it "the most anti-Democratic suggestion I've ever heard in a courtroom." Opponents of Scott have said he goes into tirades at the meetings and confronts people if he disagrees with the direction the group is taking. Opponents also allege he helped damage their community garden, although Scott wasn't charged with that.
The prosecutor also asked that Scott's community service be served outside the neighborhood. The judge did not place those restrictions on Scott.
Noble told Scott he needs to work with the other residents, if improving the neighborhood is really his goal.
"You can't pick and choose who you're going to be civil to," Noble said. "Fine-tune your behavior."
What made Scott’s case unusual is that he was barred from the neighborhood, for 17 months, as a condition of bail while awaiting trial. He had to pay hundreds of dollars to wear an ankle monitoring device and wasn’t allowed back to his home or any of five properties he owns in the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood during that time.
The neighborhood has about 3,200 residents. It is bounded by Interstate 64 (Highway 40) on the north, Interstate 44 on the south, South Vandeventer Avenue on the east and southeast, and South Kingshighway on the west.
The painter whom Scott harassed, a woman named Grace McCammond, testified at the trial in November that she was "scared out of my mind" when Scott cursed at her, called her names and said she didn't belong. He even punched a wall while shouting, causing her to freeze in fear until his tirade stopped.
In defending his behavior, Scott said he was upset that McCammond, an outsider, was hired by Washington University to paint the hydrants and boxes, including one in front of his property. He wondered why the work didn't go instead to youths who lived in the neighborhood. He said the youths sometimes turn to selling drugs to make cash. Why couldn't they be hired for $5 a hydrant instead, he wondered.
Prosecutors said the painter is still fearful of Scott and chose not to attend the sentencing today.
The judge heard plenty from people on both sides of the issue. He said he got numerous letters. Some were from supporters of Scott, who see him as a trustworthy asset to the neighborhood, a good role model, and someone who toughed out the early years when it was crime-ridden, but is being pushed out now that the neighborhood is on the upswing.
Noble also heard from opponents who say Scott berates and frightens people trying to make the Forest Park Southeast neighborhood better. One letter from an opponent said there was "rejoicing on our block" when word spread that Scott had been arrested and jailed for harassment.
Brooks Goedeker, a community development specialist who has been working in Forest Park Southeast since 2002, told the judge that Scott is a con man who controls and harasses people. "When he was absent for a year and a half, it was a much better place," Goedeker said. "How much worse is it going to be after today?"
In court, one neighbor said he thinks Scott is an ongoing threat to residents of Forest Park Southeast.
"Rarely do you have such a split within the same neighborhood," Noble said. "Rarely have I seen letters that are such polar opposites."
Scott said he didn't intend to intimidate anyone. He said he curses often, can be overly animated at times and gets hyped up easily. Scott claims Roddy and others are trying to run him out of the neighborhood now that Washington University and other investors are showing interest in Forest Park Southeast.
The neighborhood dispute took on racial tones between Scott, who is of mixed race, and some white residents.
After his trial, the ankle monitoring device was removed and Scott went back home. "It felt great to have it off," Scott said. "I felt great to come back home and be around my people."
As he walked around the neighborhood Thursday, on the eve of his sentencing, Scott said the 17 months away amounted to an economic embargo — he was unable to maintain his properties or collect rent from his tenants.
"It's hard to live when the people at the top are trying to push you off," he said.