A Tale of Two Neighborhoods

With his motorcycles and his tattoos, Jon Bryce LaPierre is almost prototypically blue-collar. He's also an almost archetypal bully, and he's got the yuppie neighbors scared witless.

Many of the details of LaPierre's criminal history are well-known to at least some of his neighbors. Not only do they know about the meth lab; they also know that it was located in San Jose, and that he was involved with his brother in the aborted criminal enterprise. Ask people in the surrounding area and chances are good you'll hear some portion of this rap on LaPierre: He's a wife-beater, a drug dealer, and a welfare case. They stress the welfare situation and his large number of children almost as much as they do the drugs. One neighbor derisively said it this way: "It's a little slice of Appalachia up there."

The class prejudice and yuppie scorn heaped on LaPierre make his former neighbor, Richard Stypmann, fume.

Stypmann is from Mecklenburg County, N.C. The county is called "the hornet's nest of the Confederacy" because it seceded from the union first. "We also declared independence from Britain a month before the fourth of July," he says with pride.

Stypmann is a rebel in every way, a homosexual and a vexatious litigant -- the government term for a lawsuit fanatic who ties up the system with frivolity and vitriol. Stypmann makes his living, in part, by helping people sue the city for towing their cars.

Between 1982 and 1990, Stypmann lived at 8 Samoset. He loved the fuck-you attitude that ruled Bernal Heights at the time. And although LaPierre treated him like a "piece of shit" for being gay, Stypmann felt kinship with LaPierre's form of fierce, almost anti-social, independence.

"All this is, is just people putting on airs," Stypmann says about the neighbors' complaints about LaPierre. "It's the yuppies versus S.F.-style radicals."

Stypmann is so upset about the criticisms of LaPierre that, after thinking about his initial response to questions, he phones back. "This just seems to be a class issue that's being made out to be more than it is," he says. "I lived in the fascist-controlled South, so I am very familiar with people trying to run other people's lives."

Similarly, LaPierre's old friend and lawyer, Eric Safire, says there's more to his former client than what emerges from the public record and the mouths of terrified neighbors.

To make his point, Safire shares a story from a few years ago. The attorney was contacted by an extremely wealthy man from the East Coast and asked to help locate the man's underage daughter, who had gotten hooked on coke and other drugs and run off with a drug dealer. She was shacked up somewhere in San Francisco.

One day, Safire says, he was complaining to LaPierre about how uncooperative the cops were being. LaPierre said, "I'll find her."

And he did. LaPierre put the word out and, according to Safire, dove into the drug underworld of San Francisco and rescued the girl, sending her back home.

Even among the reams of unfavorable information in the public record are small clues of LaPierre's humanity -- and tenderness.

When he was arrested for domestic violence last year, his mother and others wrote the court asking that LaPierre be granted bail. The mother was at home, recovering from cancer. In shaky hand, she argued that Jon was her primary caretaker.

"[Seton Hospital] released me to his care after he attended their classes on my food, the proper beverages -- the walking etc. ... the stairs," she wrote. "24 hour care at all times -- I use a walker and take oxygen 24 hours every day. He helps me get to the bathroom.

"He prepares my food. Sees to it that I have what I need."

Jay Sciarra has no doubt that LaPierre loves his mother and his children. That's not what has been chewing at his gut as he has made trips to his new home in the months preceding his May 1 move-in date.

In the front of his mind, seared onto his gray matter like a brand, is information he's read in the files at the criminal courts. By late March, he still hasn't met Jon LaPierre. And he isn't sure what he'd say or do if he did. How do you tell your new neighbor that you've researched his criminal record and have developed a deep fear of him?

On April Fools' Day, Sciarra drives to his new house and surveys the property. He runs into Jon LaPierre's older brother, Kevin, and senses an opportunity to broach the subject of Jon, his record, or at least, his reputation.

"He's moody but he's good people," Kevin says, according to Sciarra. With Kevin is a friend of Jon's named Ivan, who, Sciarra says, is "the prototype biker brute."

Kevin invites Sciarra in-to the LaPierres' garage to show off two Harley-Davidson motorcycles. "I was visibly uptight," Sciarra says later, hugging himself with his arms and shaking to imitate fear. Later in the day, Jon drops by. All attempts at conversation fail.

"He's nonverbal. He grunted," Sciarra says.
Sciarra has a complicated view of the neighborhood bully. He shifts between theories from minute to minute. First, LaPierre is a redeemable figure. The next, he's an archetypal brute.

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