White couple charged following harassment complaints by Black neighbor
When numerous complaints made to police failed to stop the alleged harassment from several of her white neighbors, Jennifer McLeggan, a single Black mother, posted a large handwritten sign on the front door of her New York residence informing the community "I live in FEAR for my life at home."
McLeggan, a registered nurse, listed on the sign a litany of allegations against her neighbors, including dropping dog feces on her property in the Long Island town of Valley Stream and shooting a pellet gun across her yard in a dangerous way at a nearby sign.
The three years of alleged harassment culminated on Monday with the arrests of two of her neighbors, John McEneaney, 57, and his live-in girlfriend, Mindy Canarick, 53.
"The last straw was the dead squirrels for me," McLeggan, 39, told ABC News of the rodents she said she found in her yard and accused McEneaney of placing them there. "I think enough was enough at that point. That to me was a sign -- you meant me harm."
Up until that point, McLeggan "suffered in silence," one of her attorneys, Heather Palmore, told ABC News.
"She thought that they were really going to do something to her. So, she posted the sign on her door and that's really what caused this whole thing to go viral," Palmore said.
McLeggan said she put the sign up at her home out of fear for her life.
"I put [up] the sign in case something would happen and ... someone would see there’s a baby inside and kind of, at least, call my mom to pick up the baby," said McLeggan, who wrote on the sign, "My name is Jennifer and I am a single mom and Registered Nurse."
Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said she immediately launched an investigation into McLeggan's complaints once she was informed of the sign posted on her home in early July.
"I was heartbroken when I saw the sign on Ms. McLeggan's door," Singas said in a video statement announcing the arrests of McEneaney and Canarick. "Nassau County is a very safe place to live and no one should feel threatened in their own home. I hope that [McLeggan] and her daughter can sleep better tonight knowing that we have her back and that those who harass their neighbors will be held to account for their actions."
Singas said that while investigators from her office did not find evidence to support a hate crime, the alleged conduct of McEneaney and Canarick "crossed the line between being a bad neighbor and into the realm of criminality."
McEneaney was charged with criminal mischief in the fourth degree and harassment in the first degree, both misdemeanors. Canarick was charged with criminal tampering in the third degree, also a misdemeanor.
The couple was released following an arraignment at the Hempstead District Court.
Singas said that in an attempt to "prevent future contact and harassment," Judge Erica L. Prager granted a request from her office for an order of protection against the suspects.
But McLeggan told ABC News that she feels even less safe for her and her baby knowing the suspects are still living next door.
"I just feel like now they’re more dangerous because now they’ve been arrested," McLeggan said.
Following the arraignment, McEneaney told reporters that the charges against him and Canarick were "absolutely ridiculous."
"When she moved in, I thought, 'This is great, I finally have a neighbor I can talk to, I can help her with things around her house,'" said McEneaney as Canarick stood next to him.
"We're the victims," McEneaney said without elaborating. "I am not a racist. I never was."
McEneaney's lawyer, Jason Kolodny, told ABC News that his client “doesn’t have a racist bone in his body" and described the dispute with McLeggan as “squabbles as neighbors.”
Palmore said that McLeggan, 39, was pregnant with her now 2-year-old daughter when she moved to Valley Stream in 2017 from an apartment she was renting in Queens, New York.
"She found this house. It was a foreclosure and she got it for a discounted price," Palmore said. "She wanted to provide a safe place for her daughter and her to live. And it's unfortunate that she had to experience this."
Palmore said the house was badly in need of repairs and that McEneaney and Canarick immediately began complaining about the house being in disrepair the moment she moved in.
"Then she started to see that this was more than just about the upkeep of the house, that they did not want her there because she is Black," Palmore claimed.
She said McLeggan made numerous complaints to the Nassau Police Department to no avail.
"They didn't act on any of her complaints," Palmore said. "Some of the officers would ask her, 'Were you hurt?' Just downplaying the incident and she became increasingly frustrated over the course of the last three years."
She said McEneaney would allegedly shoot pellet guns from his backyard across McLeggan's property, leaving a street sign near McLeggan's yard pockmarked.
"Many of these incidents have been caught on surveillance tape," Palmore said.
After McLeggan's placed the sign on her home, community residents rallied in support of her and a group of men even took shifts guarding her home.
Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder called a news conference on July 14 in hopes of "ratcheting down" the tensions.
Ryder said that after McLeggan's posted her sign, detectives interviewed her extensively. He said detectives also interviewed McEneaney's father and seized a pellet rifle and a pellet handgun from the family home.
"At this time, we do not have any evidence of any bias. But that does not mean that it is not there," Ryder said at the time. "We have more work to do."
Ryder confirmed that his officers have responded to up to 50 complaints made to his agency by both McLeggan and her next-door neighbors about each other since 2017, including the allegation from McLeggan about dead squirrels left in her yard.
"There are allegations that [the suspects] have shot squirrels. There are neighbors who have found dead squirrels in their yards," Ryder said. "None of those squirrels have been shown to have been shot by a BB to our knowledge. We're still looking into that matter."
Singas said the charges against McEneaney and Canarick came after investigators interviewed other neighbors, police witnesses, code enforcement officers and reviewed surveillance videos.
Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is now representing McLeggan, called it "outrageous" that McLeggan had to endure the alleged harassment for so long before action was taken by law enforcement.
"Ms. McLeggan was simply trying to live while Black -- and her life was turned into a living hell by neighbors whose aim was to drive her away," Crump alleged. "Enough is enough. This long-overdue arrest sends an important message: That in America in 2020, people of color have the right to breathe, the right to live, the right to own a home, and the right to protection by their government. That is what we demand, and we will not accept less.”