Neighbor Dispute To Be Reviewed By County DA
SILVER CREEK — The dispute between the Martin family and the Schilling family on Hanover Road was recently brought to the attention of Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson. Swanson is currently working with the Chautauqua County’s Sheriff’s Office to understand the history of the situation, which is complicated by the Schillings’ protection under the first and second amendments.
Michelle Martin, whose family was interviewed by Buffalo news stations, believes the situation has been oversimplified by the broadcast media. She said this is not just about her neighbor, Todd Schilling, hanging Nazi flags on his fence.
“It’s about all the flags and the pattern of behavior over the course of a year. The problem with our chickens was that last year, a few got into his yard, but we fixed it within days.”
“There have been no chickens on his property for a year,” Martin said.
According to Martin, when Todd Schilling’s dog died last July, he attributed it to the dog eating the chickens’ feces. She said after this event, Schilling hung a flag depicting a middle finger and then began hanging multiple flags and posters showing marijuana plants, obscene language and the Confederate flag on the side of his fence that faces the Martins’ property. Martin said Schilling did not start hanging the Nazi flags until a month ago. She said he has also pointed a surveillance camera at her daughter’s bedroom window.
“We did move the coop closer to his fence to block out the posters. I spoke with him about it and recorded our conversation with his permission. I offered to move the coop if he would take the posters down. He said, ‘I like the chickens where they’re at.’ And he kept the flags up.”
Martin and her husband have contacted the Sheriff’s Office numerous times over the past year. “People have asked, ‘Why don’t you just take down the flags?’ It’s not that simple,” Martin said. “We talked to the sheriff about it. He said if we took them down, ‘I would have to arrest you for destruction of property.’ Our hands are tied.”
Martin said that the news stations have failed to include that Schilling’s elderly mother is part of the problem. “She’s ‘flipped off’ my children, my husband, me. She’s yelled ‘F — you!’ to us from her yard and from the road. She’s called my 4-year-old son a retard and a reject.”
Martin explained that Schilling’s flags, language and sexual gestures toward her children are protected under his First Amendment right to freedom of speech because he is acting on his property.
The situation is further complicated by Schilling’s protection under the Second Amendment to carry a firearm. According to Martin, Schilling has walked along the property line carrying his rife on multiple occasions and has set off firecrackers and bottle rockets. Martin said, “He has fired his gun within 500 feet of our property. However, we have not been able to prove it. He’s done it at least three times, but we need pictorial proof or video, which we haven’t been able to get.”
When asked if her family has considered moving, Martin responded, “I honestly don’t know who would want to buy a house with neighbors like that next door.”
Now there is a “Go Fund Me” page created by a community member to raise money for the Martins to erect a fence of their own to block out the view. “I hate to think it’s come to this,” said Martin, who said that for nearly eight years her family has lived next door to the Schillings without incident, until last year.
According to Swanson, proving intent to harm or harass is difficult, especially when someone’s actions are protected by his or her constitutional rights.
“Certainly there is morally reprehensible conduct,” explained Swanson, speaking in general about neighbor disputes. “But what’s happening isn’t always criminal.”
Currently, Swanson is reviewing two other neighbor disputes that are similarly heated. “Neighbor disputes typically involve people very passionate about their positions. It’s difficult because it’s their homes. It’s their families,” he said.
Swanson said that the matter with the Martins and Schillings was brought to his attention about a week or two ago, and that he is currently working with the Sheriff’s Office.
“I’m not completely aware of all the facts at this point. But the Sheriff’s department is putting together as much as they can for me to review.”