Swearing. Snickering. A witness mimicking the sound of a cockatoo squawking.
These actions took place Thursday night at City Hall during a four-hour Municipal Court hearing, as Lynne Taylor of 51 Harris Avenue is being accused of violating the city’s animal-noise ordinance. Her neighbors are convinced she has trained her umbrella cockatoo to repeatedly cuss at them.
The hearing ended without a final outcome at 11:15 p.m. because the defense is yet to take the stand. A follow-up hearing has been scheduled for this Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Taylor’s neighbors Kathy Melker and Craig Fontaine of 55 Harris Avenue claim that Taylor, Fontaine’s ex wife, has been harassing them since June 2011. Taylor, along with her boyfriend, Chris Levasseur, live next door approximately 30 feet away.
When Melker moved in with Fontaine last summer, she said the bird almost instantly began calling her a “f*cking whore.” Melker believes Taylor trained Willy to direct the obscene phrase at her and Fontaine alleges that Taylor taught the bird to say “f*ck you” shortly after they spilt at least seven years ago.
During the hearing, Taylor’s attorney, Steve Peltier, questioned witnesses if they believe Willy says, “knock it off,” as opposed to the obscenity, but they believe the bird is saying the vulgar phrase.
Melker has filed several complaints to the Warwick Police Department regarding the “fowl” play, reporting that Taylor has assaulted Fontaine with a garden hose, as well as thrown rocks at them over the fence separating the two properties. Taylor claimed she simply was raking rocks and throwing them behind her.
Further, Melker also reported that Taylor shot Fontanie’s property and their vehicles with a pellet gun, but Taylor reported that Melker assaulted her own vehicle. Officers noted that Melker and Fontaine’s vehicles did not bear any significant evidence to prove any damage.
Melker also claimed Taylor tried to harm her cat by luring it into a box truck, yet Taylor said the cat often used her yard as a litter box and she trapped it in order to bring it to a shelter.
As a result, the women have reciprocal no-contact orders. The police have not filed charges, but Community Service Division Police Officer Daniel Maggiacomo, who was cross-examined at the hearing, issued Taylor a ticket for violating the ordinance.
When he was called to Taylor’s home and investigated the situation in the spring, he heard the bird screeching “extremely loud.” He did not hear the bird use profanities.
At the hearing, Peltier urged Judge Joel Gerstanblatt to dismiss the case because he believes the ordinance, which issues a $15 fee to an animal owner whose pet causes a disturbance via “habitual howling, yelping, barking or other noise,” is vague, broad and unconstitutional. Gerstanblatt denied the request and the case proceeded.
Kerry Rafanelli, a Warwick city solicitor representing Melker and Fontaine, said his clients aren’t the only residents troubled by the bird. Kevin David and Sherri Perreault, a couple who formerly lived in close proximity of Taylor and Levasseur, were individually called to the stand.
While they moved away from the area about two years ago, they said they each still visit the property, with David stopping by to inspect the home approximately 25 times a year, and Perreault to collect mail once or twice a week.
Both David and Perreault say they have been friendly with Fontaine for about a decade and only were acquainted with Taylor when she was married to him. David, who owns an auto repair shop, noted that he has been aware of the bird since he first met Fontaine and that possession of the bird went to Taylor at the time of the divorce.
David went on to say that he has often seen the bird sitting in a cage in front of a second-story window of Levasseur’s home and has heard the bird cussing. He said it began at least six or seven years ago and described the bird as being “very loud.” It often “aggravated” and “offended” him.
“It was anytime I stepped outside, went out into my yard, or my deck, or the street – you could always hear that bird,” David said. “It’s an obscenity you hear over and over again. It’s constantly repeated and repeated and repeated. It’s not something you want to hear.”
When David was asked to describe the squawking sound Willy makes aside from swearing, David imitated the bird, which made many of the dozen or so people in the assembly find it difficult to keep straight faces. A few even burst out laughing.
Peltier questioned David, “You work in an auto body shop, is that right? Because nobody swears in an auto body shop, do they?”
David answered, “Of course not.”
Peltier said, “You don’t swear while you’re working, do you?”
David replied, “No, I don’t.”
Like David, Perreault said she often notices the bird in its cage in the front window of Taylor’s second story window. She said she frequently hears it saying a variety of obscenities, as well as make generally “annoying” sounds, such as a low-pitch screech that progressively gets louder and eventually turns into cursing.
“Anytime I go there and step outside, I can hear the bird,” she said.
Both David and Perreault said they never contacted the police, nor did they confront Taylor about the situation but noted that Taylor is typically close by the bird when it swears.
Melker has contacted the police on several occasions. Thursday evening she estimated that she has heard the bird “thousands” of times from June 2011 until recently and provided YouTube videos to the court, which she recorded on a handheld Canon camera. She said she filmed a majority of the videos from her deck area, which is about 40 feet from Levasseur’s property.
As they did when David mimicked the bird, people also snickered when Melker was on the stand playing the videos from a laptop. She claimed the bird was using obscenities repeatedly, plus other noises, and that Taylor was often nearby talking to the bird.
“It makes an extremely loud screeching sound, as well as vocalizations of the word ‘Christopher’ repeatedly,” Melker said. She went on to say that she hears the bird mostly on a daily basis and that it’s loud enough to penetrate windows through all four seasons.
“It’s like fingernails on a blackboard,” Melker said. “It’s disturbing. It’s annoying [and] aggravating.”
Peltier asked Melker where she was when she was filming the videos, as she admitted to propping the camera on a deck table. She said that she would press record and “just sit there.”
“You wouldn’t do anything to instigate that bird, would you?” Peltier asked. “You wouldn’t do that because it’s not in your nature, is it?”
Melker replied, “I was not doing anything to instigate that bird. I have never taunted that bird.”
From there, Peltier asked her if she liked YouTube and Melker said she “loves” it. He also asked her if she shared Taylor’s personal information on YouTube, such as her name, address and phone number, as well as instructed people to contact Taylor. Melker said that is correct.
“You wouldn’t go online and post things about Ms. Taylor talking about how she’s no good?” Peltier said. “You don’t hesitate on bad-mouthing people, do you not?”
When Fontaine was on the stand, he explained that he and Taylor purchased the bird more than 12 years ago and began training it to say, “I love you,” and “Whatcha’ doing?” When they split, he said, she moved next door and took Willy with her. He said that’s when Willy began to say, “F*ck you” and “F*ck off,” and has seen Taylor present and near the bird when it says those phrases. He said he never discussed the issue with Taylor.
“Did you teach it to say ‘F*cking whore?’” Peltier asked.
“No, I did not,” Fontaine said.
“Because it doesn’t say that,” Peltier said.