Last Thursday afternoon, Robert Brians peeked over his backyard fence to see Public Works employee Tommy Simmons in the alley taking pictures of his neighbor's backyard.
Brians then took a picture with his cell phone. After an encounter between the two men, a restraining order was filed against Brians which was never served. But Wednesday morning while on his way to work, he was arrested on suspicion of threatening a public employee—a felony—and held on $25,000 bail.
"When he left for work this morning there were two unmarked cars and a police car that were waiting for him," said his wife, Kristen Brians.
Minutes later, her husband called her, she said.
"He called me and was like 'I have six cop cars [around me], they have their guns out; there are motorcycle cops barricading Palm Avenue for a no-flee kind of situation.' It's something you'd expect to see in a movie," she said.
"They were all parked in front of the house so I don't understand why they wouldn't arrest him there," she said.
According to the restraining order filed by the city of Imperial Beach with the Sheriff's Department, Simmons claims that while examining possible code violations on Delaware Street last Thursday, Brians shouted curse words at him, threatened to "wring his neck like a chicken" and said "I'm going to break your legs."
The harassment allegedly continued as he drove to the front of the property, though Simmons never said a word, the document says.
For his part, Robert Brians said he didn't threaten Simmons, and that he doesn't like the idea of the city poking around in his or his neighbors' backyards.
"I've got a teenage daughter and you've got 15 girls down there playing in bikinis. You don't want some bastard looking over the fence," he said Monday.
Brians is scheduled to appear in court Friday for arraignment, the Sheriff's Department said.
His wife, Kristen, said she needs her husband to work, and Wednesday evening was making arrangements with him from jail for friends to cover his shifts in tile and grout work.
Lately, he has worked a lot of odd jobs and helps his wife run a day care center out of their home. His family needs him to work, she said.
"We have a mortgage payment due and with him not working, I can't take any more kids because I'm by myself. And if he's not working then I don't have an income. Oh my God, if they keep him for more than three days, what am I going to do?"
The restraining order, which was granted July 28, orders Brians to stay 100 yards from Simmons' job and workplace, which includes the Civic Center and City Hall.
That means he may not be able to attend City Council meetings, or appear in person to discuss with city staff his idea of starting a business to sell rare pets and reptiles.
Documents attached to the restraining order claim that threats began in June 2008 when the Brians were cited for code violations.
In conversations with the Sheriff's Department following Robert Brians' arrest, officials said a previous restraining order showed a pattern in his behavior and a willingness to threaten people.
A separate restraining order filed by neighbor John Harrington claims Brians threatened him multiple times in October 2009 for throwing bird feed in the street and attracting pigeons.
However, declarations written by 16 neighbors and parents whose children attend the day care held in the Brians' home said they have never seen Robert threaten anyone and describe him as a "family man," "good neighbor" and "caring."
Multiple declarations signed under penalty of perjury refute some of the dates and times of threats claimed by the neighbor.
Still, Community Development Department Director Greg Wade said threats against city employees are taken seriously and that restraining orders are uncommon, saying he has only seen two filed since he started working for the city 10 years ago.
"That should tell you the serious nature of it," he said.
Martin Cronk, 72, the neighbor whose home Simmons inspected, has lived in IB since 1966 and described himself as "an old farm boy from Michigan that don't like to be told when to mow his grass."
His home had been cited for several violations over time. He said he didn't hear everything said between Simmons and Brians on July 28 but from what he did catch, he didn't hear any threatening words or vulgarities.
"I know Robert's had problems with the city before and they've locked horns over several different things," he said.
Speaking of city employees taking photos of his property without his knowledge, he said, "I don't like it."
"I've got a house full of young girls here, from 1 year up to 21 living with me and sometimes they don't have the windows or curtains pulled down all the time and i wouldn't approve of having that sort of thing," he said.
"I think that there could be a better idea or way of doing things, but bureaucrats aren't going to make it easy on themselves," Cronk said.