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.

"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.

Between December 1994 and December 1996, 15 calls were made to the Ingleside police station, complaining of activity at the LaPierre house. It's impossible to tell from Police Department records where the calls came from; some could have originated with the LaPierres themselves. Still, 15 calls in 24 months -- with more than half occurring in a two-month period late last year -- is an unusually high number. At least, that's what Capt. Richard Bruce, the newly appointed commander at the Ingleside station, says.

"Let's start with the 800 call, the call to report an insane person," Bruce says sardonically as he reads from a computer-generated list of incident calls.

That tantalizing call came in at 4:21 p.m. on Nov. 21 last year. But Bruce can't provide additional information, because no further police report was made. About a month later, an officer arrived at the LaPierre house and then asked for backup. Again, no further report was filed to explain why a San Francisco police officer responding to a call at the LaPierre house felt the need to call more cops to the scene.

Other calls during this period involved a wide array of alleged malfeasance that did not apparently result in arrests.

LaPierre declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this article, so his take on the terrifying reputation he has acquired is not available. It is clear, however, that his behavior has left emotional bruises on his neighbors.

Conditions were at their worst about 18 months ago, says neighbor Raul Sampedro, when LaPierre befriended a Samoan family on Peralta Avenue. (The family has since moved.) One member of that family, a huge man covered in tattoos, had just been released from the penitentiary -- or so he told the neighbors.

Extravagant drinking, auto and motorcycle racing, dusk-to-dawn parties in the street, loud music, scores of people and their souped-up cars and cycles -- all this was standard practice at the LaPierre household, Sampedro says.

One night, the 77-year-old Sampedro says, he had had enough. It was about 2 a.m. and there was honking, shouting, music-blaring cacophony coming from down the street. Throwing on his robe, Sampedro ran down the block and caught up with LaPierre, who was sitting in one of his trucks. "He told me to shut up or he'd put me down," Sampedro remembers. Just then, another neighbor came out to see what the racket was. "He no doubt stopped [LaPierre] from hitting me," Sampedro says.

Fed up, several neighbors called a block meeting to discuss LaPierre's disturbing behavior. They invited their troublesome neighbor, but he refused to attend. Another invitee, a police officer from the Ingleside station, dropped by and heard the complaints. For a while, cops made more frequent patrols. For a while, things quieted down.

Now, though, Sampedro says he's afraid to even look at LaPierre. It used to be that Sampedro's son, a prize-winning boxer and a Marine, lived at home. At 6 feet 3 inches and 300 pounds, the son was bigger and stronger than LaPierre. The son is gone now, living in another city. The police don't come by that often anymore, either.

A retired warehouseman leaves his home for his daily walk around the neighborhood. Asked about LaPierre, he relates a story from the mid-'80s, when he witnessed LaPierre chase a guy down the street. The man jumped into his car, grabbed a gun, and waved it at LaPierre. "He flew back into his house, boy," the man says.

Down on Franconia Street, at the other end of Samoset, a man answers his doorbell in a thin robe. He wears a sparkling gold chain around his neck. After some preliminaries, he begins discussing events of 20 years ago, when the man first moved to the neighborhood. Back then, he says, he would frequently find Jon and Kevin, both in their 20s at the time, on his steps, drinking beer. When he would ask them to leave, the brothers would pour out their beer on his entryway rug.

"See this gate," he says, clutching a heavy black iron security gate at the bottom of stairs leading to his second-floor apartment. "I put this here because of them."

Down the hill, closer to the flatlands, Judy Turturici insists that LaPierre revels in his bully image. Whenever he passes her on his motorcycle, she says, he backfires his engine -- or "pops his pipes" -- letting loose a loud, frightening bang. And, every time, Turturici yells, telling LaPierre what an asshole he is. In this oft-repeated ritual, Turturici says, LaPierre will stop his bike, pull up the visor on his helmet, and sneer at Turturici for a long while, before banging his pipes one final, deafening time, and roaring off.

Lori Feazell has never lived in Jon LaPierre's neighborhood, but he has become a focal point in her professional life -- something of a fixation, actually. Two years after the first and only time she met LaPierre, Feazell still has pictures posted in her office to remind her of him. On a nearby table is a more than 4-foot-tall trophy that also serves as a totem of her brief but intense dealings with LaPierre. Underneath her desk is a locked briefcase with files and a mug shot of the neighborhood bully.

As deputy director of San Francisco's Animal Care and Control agency, Feazell is responsible for all investigations into animal cruelty in the city. Much of her time is spent tracking and trying to arrest people who fight pit bull terriers.

Acting on an anonymous tip in March 1995, Feazell and a brace of local law enforcement agents raided a warehouse South of Market. They knew what to expect. They were, after all, interrupting the Western United States pit bull fighting championship, with entrants from seven states.

Even so, what they found horrified them.
In the middle of the warehouse, in the fighting ring, a large swath of carpet was soaked in blood, feces and urine. The walls were soaked with blood. In several rooms off the main fighting area, pit bulls lay dead or dying or severely, savagely, wounded.

In one room a dead pit bull lay on a table, facing away from the door. The wall above its head was smeared with blood. The dog had died of a broken neck, an unusual wound for a pit bull to sustain from fighting another pit bull. Feazell has come to believe that the owner was angry that his dog lost a fight and banged its head into the wall, killing it.

In another room, a dog sat on the floor, legs spread out in dejection and pain, its snout horribly torn and bleeding. Feazell had to destroy it.

LaPierre was charged with training a dog for the fight, causing the dog to take part in the fight, and allowing a premises under his control to be used to train a dog for the fight. He pleaded guilty to the last charge and was placed on probation. The trophy in Feazell's office, adorned with little gold pit bulls and topped with a winged victory figure, would have gone to the winner, had Feazell and an army of cops and investigators not shut down the fight, at which LaPierre and his wife, Ginger, were arrested.

Three days later, Feazell conducted a search of 56 Samoset, accompanied by nine other law enforcement agents. LaPierre's parole officer from a 1989 drug bust was on hand, too.

Investigative logs detail what they found: As Feazell and other officers began to walk upstairs, LaPierre's mother, Isabel, said, "I have to take care of my babies."

What babies, Feazell asked.
"I'm raising three orphaned puppies," the mother replied. Isabel showed Feazell three puppies lying in a cardboard box in the bathroom. Meanwhile, Ginger LaPierre stood in the hall and spoke to someone -- maybe Jon -- over a cell phone. "They're looking at the puppies." She turned to Isabel and asked, "Why did you show them the puppies?"

The investigators confiscated the puppies and some pit bull training aids. As the investigative team was leaving, one of the officers led a full-grown pit bull out through the garage. The dog, Klive, pushed the officer aside and jumped on a treadmill. The officer flipped the treadmill's switch; the dog began walking. The mother tried to explain that the treadmill was hers. Feazell was convinced that 56 Samoset was a place where pit bulls were trained to fight. And kill.

Jon Bryce LaPierre came into contact with law enforcement several times in early adulthood, but was not convicted until 1988, when he was collared for possession of a stolen vehicle and placed on probation.

In March 1989, LaPierre hit the big time. He and his wife, Ginger, were arrested with 5 ounces of cocaine, both crack and powder. The police narrative of the arrest lessens any suspicion that LaPierre might be a criminal mastermind.

When officers arrived at an Excelsior address and asked to conduct a probation search, LaPierre slammed the door in their faces. After gaining entry to the home, the officers found guns, ammunition, drugs, scales, plastic bags, pipes, and more than $8,000 in cash. Jon and Ginger waived their Miranda rights and spilled their guts -- but their guts contained different, conflicting stories.

According to a police report, LaPierre said he had been on welfare for five years and the cocaine was for his personal use -- all 5 ounces of it. Ginger told the cops that Jon was co-owner of a motorcycle shop.

Eventually, LaPierre pleaded guilty and received two years in state prison. He was released on parole a year later. The next year, he was convicted of trying to construct a methamphetamine lab in San Jose with his brother, Kevin, and Kevin's wife. He was sent back to prison for five months and released on parole again.

In 1995 the pit bull case sent him back to Folsom for six months. About two months after his release, police investigating a shooting incident (in which LaPierre was never charged) searched the 56 Samoset home. There, Inspector William Murphy reported finding one of LaPierre's daughters, her boyfriend, a shotgun, ammunition, some marijuana, and $6,000 in cash. The daughter was convicted of being an accessory to a crime; the boyfriend, records show, was convicted of that crime, possession of marijuana. LaPierre was not charged.

Subsequently, LaPierre beat his wife and was placed on so-called "last chance" probation. If he runs afoul of the law again before his probation expires in 1999, he could return to state prison for three years.

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.

But if LaPierre is the thug that his public record indicates, how does Sciarra fit in to this new neighborhood? "If there's an observation to be made here it's Joseph Conrad's idea about the interloper, the newcomer who is resented for having more," Sciarra says. "I'm the yuppie interloper in his world. I'm the parvenu. That's a potentially dangerous situation."

What mostly concerns Sciarra is a clash of prejudice and perception. "They probably perceive me as someone who pulls down six figures," he says over a lunch of sweetbreads with mushrooms and artichoke sauce. "What they don't know is that I am a musician and a producer, and I have to do software consulting to pay for that, because I haven't made it yet. We have a problem with perceptions right now, and if those perceptions slip, something might really go wrong, and then it's a matter of how we both react. I know how they will react -- with brute force. And I will do what I can, within the law."

The potential for conflict is so high, Sciarra says, that he is considering not moving into his new house. He is not alone in this assessment of the situation. The couple who looked at the house before him were all set to buy it when some neighbors told them about LaPierre. "I heard from neighbors that were spooked," says the man who almost bought the house. "I had heard that there were guns and gunshots. They said there were sleazy characters pulling up at all hours, and lots of cars."

But Sciarra is stuck. He's closed the deal. Either he reaches some accommodation with LaPierre, or he gets the hell out of Dodge.

"I don't want to antagonize them," he says. "I have a vested self-interest in keeping the peace. And fear, you can smell it. It's that sniffing-dog thing. I don't want fear to be part of that equation."

It's a sunny afternoon in late April -- weeks after Sciarra checked the criminal files and vented his fears of the neighborhood bully -- and the parvenu is again up on Bernal Heights preparing to maybe move in.

He has already shared his concerns about LaPierre with Capt. Bruce and, he says, the police commander has advised him not to move in.

Next door, LaPierre's friend Ivan is standing on the sidewalk, and he calls Sciarra over. Word has gotten out that a reporter has been asking questions, and that Sciarra has been talking. Just then, LaPierre walks up.

Sciarra has no choice now. He has to confront his fear. He tells LaPierre that he's talked to the reporter. And what's more, he has inspected the court files. Frankly, he says, he's scared.

The two men talk for about an hour. LaPierre explains his criminal record. The coke bust, it was for personal use. The dogfight, he was just a spectator, and it was his first time. He's finally gotten his kids off welfare, and he's trying hard to be a good provider and father. He loves his kids. Loves them more than anything else.

As for criminal enterprises, LaPierre says, he's a gangbuster, not a gangbanger. In fact, he says, he's broken up gangs in Precita Park several times. He's not the neighborhood bully, he tells Sciarra, he's the neighborhood protector.

The conversation turns to less confrontational topics: cars, and how LaPierre loves cars, loves working on them. The two men -- the parvenu and the bully -- are talking like, well, neighbors. Sciarra has been to the belly of the beast. He's relieved, but still not sure whether he'll move into his half-million-dollar house, or rent it out to someone braver and, perhaps, stupider than he.

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