Lawsuit accuses Kirby police chief of violating couple’s constitutional rights in escalating land dispute (2024)

KIRBY, Texas – The chief of police for the Kirby Police Department and another officer violated the constitutional rights of a couple who owns a business there, a lawsuit filed in Bexar County state district court claims.

The suit, filed in early March and removed to federal court earlier this month, also lists as defendants Chad Covin, who lives down the street from the property, and members of his family.

The suit is part of a bitter land dispute that has escalated since January.

At issue: whether customers of an insurance business at the corner of Ackerman Road and Landis Drive should be permitted to use Landis to enter and exit the property.

Surveillance video and pictures show several obstructions have been placed in front of the business’s side gate on Landis, an unpaved private drive.

A vast majority of the time, the obstructions, which include a metal shipping container, boulders, blocks of limestone and large piles of dirt and gravel, were put in place in the middle of the night.

“This is just one, giant mass of people against one small business owner,” said C.J. Grisham, attorney for business owner Nancy Pena.

Pena told KSAT that Covin, who lives at the end of Landis Drive, has been the mastermind behind efforts to impede access to her property.

“He’s just really not wanting to have my customers come in and out from this side,” said Pena.

Pena showed KSAT some damage to the corner of one of the buildings on her property that she said was caused by a customer trying to back out while the Landis gate was blocked.

The ongoing dispute has garnered the attention of Kirby police, who have repeatedly responded to the scene as both sides engage in heated confrontations, footage shows.

Pena’s husband was arrested in mid-January and charged with felony theft after he had an obstruction moved away from the gate.

Bexar County prosecutors rejected the case for further investigation in early March, court records show.

Pena herself has been cited by Kirby police for criminal trespass and theft and criminal mischief under $100, after moving materials away from the gate, her attorney confirmed, even though he contends she had a legal right to remove the materials from her property.

Pena was separately arrested and booked into jail on a misdemeanor assault charge on May 1, months after investigators said she repeatedly shoved a member of Covin’s family after a group of men used Bobcats to place a shipping container in front of the gate.

The container included a message affixed to its side with lewd comments directed at Pena and her husband.

The incident occurred around 12:30 at night.

Pena is scheduled to be arraigned early next month, court records show.

Who is allowed to use Landis Drive?

Bexar Appraisal District records from 2020 indicate that Landis Drive is a public street.

A spokeswoman for the agency, however, confirmed to KSAT this month that the designation has since been changed.

“Bexar Appraisal District did provide a letter stating Landis Dr was a public street based on the information available to us in July 2020. Additional research and conversations with the City of Kirby and Bexar County revealed that the street is a private road that is not maintained by either entity. We updated our maps to reflect this information and will update them again should a recorded deed or court order determine a change in ownership,” wrote Jennifer Rodriguez, Communications Director for the Bexar Appraisal District.

Covin, who declined to be interviewed on camera for this story, provided KSAT with a copy of a 2021 city permit for the Pena’s to construct a mobile office on the property.

The permit states that ingress and egress, the process of entering and exiting the property, would be off Ackerman Road.

A February email from Kirby’s city attorney, however, further muddled the dispute, after it stated the rights to enter and exit Landis Drive are extended to all adjoining properties, including the Pena’s business.

The attorney who wrote the memo did not respond to a call from KSAT seeking comment for this story.

Covin told KSAT in a phone conversation that heavy traffic leaving the business, particularly on Thursdays and Fridays, has destroyed Landis Drive.

Covin said he and his family have been repeatedly harassed in recent months.

An attorney representing Covin released a statement to KSAT.

“Although the Penas filed the original lawsuit, it is the Covin Family who is being deprived of the use and enjoyment of their own property. They have been subjected to numerous threats, abuse, continued trespass, property damage, unlawful drone surveillance, harassment, and a loss of privacy all while simply protecting their own private property rights. Landis Rd. is a private roadway intended to grant access to the few residents who cannot otherwise access their homes from a public street. The Pena property, from which they operate an insurance business, has immediate access to the street directly on Ackerman Rd., therefore, they have no legal right or need to utilize Landis Rd. or its easem*nt. We are confident that the court will remedy the wrongs perpetrated against the Covin Family and restore peace to their lives,” wrote attorney Emma Cano.

Briefed on the statement from Covin’s attorney, Grisham told KSAT, “This is rich coming from them. My client wants nothing more than her rights to earn a living. While the Covins have repeatedly interfered with her property rights far down the road from where they live, my client has done nothing more that exist and try to run a business that the Covins have interfered with for years. At no point have the Covins even attempted to disprove my client’s property interests and rights or support their own. If they firmly believe they own the property, I implore them to show the receipts. We will win on the merits and facts.”

Grisham confirmed he dropped a nearby landscaping company from the suit after the business reached a settlement with the Pena’s out of court.

Chief Cardona silent on suit, KSAT inquiries

The lawsuit filed on behalf of the Penas states that Cardona and an officer identified as Jonathan Ortiz failed to properly investigate the dispute and have not held both sides to the same standard.

“Chief Cardona is doing absolutely nothing about it. She’s negligent in educating her officers. She’s negligent in training her officers. She’s negligent in seeking truth before going after my clients,” said Grisham, who contends that Cardona has not given Pena and her husband equal access to justice. “For whatever reason, if the Covin’s say ‘jump,’ Chief Cardona asks ‘how high?’ When Mrs. Pena asks them just to do their job, she just makes up excuses or will actively go the other way.”

Cardona did not respond to multiple emails and a phone call seeking comment for this story.

An attorney representing Cardona and Ortiz filed a response to the suit this month asserting that the officers have qualified and official immunity in the case.

The two claims are common legal strategies used to potentially protect public servants from liability.

In their original answer to the suit this month, Covin and a woman identified as his girlfriend gave a general denial of all of the allegations.

The suit seeks up to $250,000 in damages.

Dispute continues, despite the suit

The disagreement over the use of Landis Drive rages on, despite the lawsuit being filed.

After KSAT first attempted to reach Covin for comment, two Kirby police officers arrived separately at Landis Drive.

After a KSAT reporter asked an officer how to get Cardona to respond to our repeated media inquiries, the officer failed to answer.

Grisham and the second officer then argued at length over private property rights and whether a citizen is required to identify who has given him or her permission to be in a private driveway.

Hours after KSAT left, a member of Covin’s family, in broad daylight this time, was recorded on a surveillance camera using a Bobcat to dump a boulder in front of the Pena’s driveway.

“This is a concerted effort. That this is knowing now. This is no longer negligent. This is a knowing and intentional infringement of Mrs. Pena and Mr. Pena’s rights,” said Grisham.

Read more reporting on the KSAT Investigates page.

Copyright 2024 by KSAT - All rights reserved.

Lawsuit accuses Kirby police chief of violating couple’s constitutional rights in escalating land dispute (2024)


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