The case of the cursing cockatoo has come to a close, as Judge Joel Gerstenblatt ruled Thursday during a Municipal Court hearing that bird owner Lynne Taylor of 51 Harris Avenue is guilty of violating the city’s animal noise ordinance.
The ordinance issues a $15 fee to an animal owner whose pet causes a disturbance through “habitual howling, yelping, barking or other noise.” The umbrella cockatoo frequently makes loud and sometimes vulgar sounds, which neighbors find “offensive” and “annoying.”
If Taylor decides to appeal, the case will be brought to Superior Court.
Moments after the ruling, Taylor’s attorney Steve Peltier, who sported a tie with cockatoo heads on it, said he doesn’t think that will happen.
“I don’t foresee anything down the road,” he said. “We’re trying to put everything behind us and move on.”
Kathy Melker and Craig Fontaine, Taylor’s neighbors at 55 Harris Avenue, made several complaints to the Warwick Police Department leading up to the violation. They said while they view the verdict as a “minor victory,” they are nevertheless moving out of state and building a new home.
“We’re leaving,” Melker said in an interview following the hearing. “We’re running for our lives.”
Fontaine, Taylor’s ex-husband, added of the waterfront home at 55 Harris Avenue he built, “I put all kinds of blood, sweat and tears into that house and I’m walking away from it. It’s not worth it anymore.”
In past interviews, as well as in police reports, Melker insists that Taylor has assaulted Fontaine with a garden hose, thrown rocks at them over the fence separating the two properties, shot Fontaine and Melker’s property, as well as their vehicles, with a pellet gun, and even tried to harm Melker’s cat by luring it into a box truck.
Yet, Taylor reported that she was raking rocks and throwing them behind her, and that Melker assaulted her own vehicle. Officers noted that Melker and Fontaine’s vehicles did not bear any significant evidence to prove any damage.
Also, Taylor said the cat often used her yard as a litter box and she trapped it to bring it to a shelter.
Thursday’s hearing was a continuation of a trial that began in Municipal Court on Sept. 6 at which Melker, Fontaine, along with Kevin David and Sherri Perreault, a couple who formerly lived in close proximity of Taylor and her live-in boyfriend Chris Levasseur but still own the property, were cross examined by Peltier, as well as Kerry Rafanelli, a Warwick city solicitor who represented Melker and Fontaine.
During their testimony, each witness individually said they often hear the bird saying a variety of obscenities, plus a low-pitch screech that gets louder and louder until the bird begins to cuss repetitively.
As he did at the Sept. 6 hearing, Peltier made a motion to dismiss the case, as he views the ordinance to be vague, arbitrary and unconstitutional. For a second time, Gerstenblatt denied the request.
Peltier then went on to say that he didn’t find David and Perreault reputable. Peltier said David was “all over the board” in his testimony, from the distance his property is from Taylor’s home, the dates he visited his property, to the amount of hours he’s been there, as well as how often the bird makes noise.
Also, David, an owner of an auto body shop, claimed he never swears in his place of business.
“He is completely incredible in his testimony [and] his girlfriend follows suit,” said Peltier. “She’s never there, [but] she leads you to believe she’s there every week and what does she tell us? That she’s there maybe twice a month.”
Peltier also said he believes Melker and Fontaine didn’t provide efficient evidence to show that Taylor is in violation of the statute. Further, he thinks Melker antagonized the bird and cited YouTube videos Melker presented to the court Sept. 6th.
“In two of those videos, you can actually see a video recorder set up, somebody walking down into the bushes, which Ms. Melker admitted is herself, then you hear the bird making some sounds, and Ms. Melker comes back,” he said. “During the videos, the wind chimes were making a lot of noise, there were seagulls making noise, and in the distance you could hear the cockatoo making some sounds.”
Peltier said he thinks the situation is motivated by ill will from Fontaine and Melker, as well as their friends, as it relates to Taylor.
But Rafanelli said that is not the problem at hand. Instead, the incessant noise is the culprit.
“One thing is for sure: they hear a noise that is habitual and that annoys them,” said Rafanelli. “There is no evidence that Ms. Taylor did anything to stop that noise.” He also argued that the content is not the issue, rather, the noise is repetitive and disturbing to multiple neighbors.
Gerstenblatt agreed. He said even if the bird repetitively said, “Love thy neighbor,” it would be a violation of the ordinance.
“The focus is not on what the bird says, it’s the noise,” Gerstenblatt said. “I do not for one minute believe that [David] has never sworn in his place of employment, but that doesn’t discredit his testimony as to what he’s heard.”
From there, Gerstenblatt gave his ruling, as well as a piece of his mind.
“This case has generated a lot of interest,” he said. “From my perspective, especially this week, and what’s happening in the world, there are more important issues to focus on.”