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"Oh my. Oh no," Jay Sciarra mumbled as he flipped through a criminal case file in a records room at the San Francisco Hall of Justice. The file concerned a 1996 probation violation. One document in the file, a police report, was particularly shocking.
Jon Bryce LaPierre had been granted probation after he pleaded guilty to a charge relating to pit bull terrier fighting. LaPierre subsequently violated the terms of this probation by chasing his wife down Highway 101 in his truck, screaming, "Bitch, pull over!" Then, the record showed, he rammed her car from the back and side and forced it to the roadside. After dragging his wife from the car, he put her on the floorboard of his truck and, the court file said, beat her repeatedly in the face.
And LaPierre wasn't just a histrionic wife-beater. Other files detailed a long series of run-ins with the law. "Oh, great, look here," Sciarra said to a woman standing next to him at the records counter. "His wife is on probation, too." (She was involved with LaPierre in the pit bull case.)
This new information, of course, did not do much to soothe Jay Sciarra. He had just signed the papers to buy a half-million-dollar house next door to LaPierre's.
Every block, it seems, has a problem neighbor. The guy who doesn't care if his car is obstructing your driveway, the battling Bickersons who think their arguments are important enough to broadcast across the neighborhood, the punk rock junkies who squat in the next-door garage, the woman who likes to feed pigeons and thus creates an avian invasion of Alfred Hitchcock proportions every damn day.
But Sciarra's new neighborhood, the secluded intersection of Peralta Avenue, Ripley Street, and Samoset in Bernal Heights, has a doozy of a bad neighbor, a real neighborhood bully. Forty years old, 6-foot-1, and 190, a man of bulk and girth etched with tattoos, outfitted with Harleys and muscle cars and trucks, Jon Bryce LaPierre scares the living daylights out of many of his nearby neighbors.
"We called our lawyer, and she said not to talk unless we plan on moving the next day," says one woman who doesn't want to explain a recent confrontation with LaPierre.
The woman and her husband live down the hill from LaPierre, and are buffered by space and topography. But the incident -- which, she says, wasn't caused by the noise or parking issues that usually draw neighbors into disputes -- has left her shaken. "He terrifies me," she concludes. "He threatened me."
LaPierre's reputation as the Bernal Heights bully, the badass at 56 Samoset, has been built over a lifetime. He has moved more than once over the years, but he always seems to return home, back to the hill he apparently feels he commands. "He just wants to make sure everyone understands the rules," says one longtime neighbor. "That he's the king of the hill. He's the boss."
Even now, as he partakes in a court-ordered live-in drug-and-alcohol rehab program elsewhere in the city, neighbors say he's frequently at 56 Samoset, looking after his mother, Isabel, who is recovering from cancer.
As adolescents, Jon and his older brother, Kevin, were rambunctious, but their offenses were run-of-the-mill shenanigans, remembers Fred Coleman, who grew up on Samoset with Jon and Kevin in the 1960s and '70s and is now a dentist in Oakland. They weren't bullies then, Coleman says; their dad wouldn't let that happen.
The elder LaPierre, who died more than a decade ago, was well-liked, a blue-collar guy. Most days and evenings, Chuck LaPierre could be found stained with motor oil and grease, leaning under a car hood, showing his sons how to repair engines. It was a scene that was repeated all over Bernal Heights in those days, because back then the hill was strictly working class. What's more, it was proudly, defiantly working class, a place where laborers, bikers, radical hippies, and other libertarian types could enjoy a simple life far from the scolding gaze of the establishment.
That would all change.
In the 1980s, yuppies began moving in. Nonprofit do-gooders, city officials, and guys like Jay Sciarra from affluent Westchester County, N.Y. -- they all snatched up parcels of Bernal Heights land. The western slope was the first to fall under the yuppie invasion. The northeast slope, LaPierre's turf, is all but conquered now too.
As a logical consequence, the LaPierre lifestyle seems foreign to many of the hill's current residents -- and to some, it seems frightening.
"People say he's the [biker] on the hill, a guy you don't want to mess with," says James Foster, who lives down the slope from LaPierre.
"I just don't even look up the hill," says another neighbor. "They aren't yuppies like us. I just keep my eyes pointed downhill, and I never let my kids up there."
Other neighbors say the fear of LaPierre is driven mostly by yuppie scolds and their class prejudice. That element is certainly present, but snobbery is only part of the equation. Action is another. And Jon LaPierre has seen more than his share of action -- and official reaction.