He said, she said: Justice for widow elusive at DA's Office

Tammy Hart-Barnes was set to go to court to resolve a dispute with a neighbor but did not appear because of, she says, confusion with the District Attorney’s Office. She displays the paperwork.

Tammy Hart-Barnes has a couple of problems.

I have one, but mine can wait for a bit.

Hart-Barnes’ first problem is with a neighbor one door down from her Hunting Park home.

That problem, she says, began last September, when the neighbor began using an orange cone to hold a parking space, which is illegal. Hart-Barnes complained, but it happened again. Bad words, even threats, were exchanged.

It got bad enough for Hart-Barnes to call the cops, who took an incident report but did no further investigating. Hart-Barnes, a 45-year-old widow, eventually filed a private criminal complaint against the neighbor claiming harassment and terroristic threats.

They were ordered to go to mediation, but that didn’t resolve the issues.

So off they went to a May 11 hearing at the Criminal Justice Center.

That’s where the other trouble began. With both Hart-Barnes and her neighbor present, a postponement was ordered to allow for gathering of further evidence.

A June 7 trial date was selected. Hart-Barnes says Assistant District Attorney Bryan Barth told her she would not have to appear, so she scheduled needed back surgery for early June.

On June 7, court was called to order, but Hart-Barnes was not there. The DA’s Office called her to ask where she was and she said she had an operation the day before because Barth had told her she need not appear.

Really?

“Absolutely not,” I am told by Barth, who joined the DA’s Office on Nov. 7.

“Our biggest challenge often is getting people to come to court,” says Michael Stackow, chief of the Municipal Court unit in the DA’s Office. It’s against the office’s ethos to tell people to avoid court, he says.

But Hart-Barnes insists that is what happened.

The case had passed from Barth to Juna Dawson-Murray, who asked the judge for a continuance, but he dismissed the case.

Remember I told you I also had a problem?

Here it is: I have two people telling opposing stories. Whom am I supposed to believe?

Neither? Both? Half and half? Was it a misunderstanding?

I don’t know and I can’t know.

I’ve spoken to Hart-Barnes several times and have read her account of what happened. She is focused and well-organized. In May she earned an associate’s degree in early childhood education from Community College of Philadelphia. Prior to becoming a full-time student, she had been a pre-K teacher’s assistant.

I asked about her bottom line, what she wants to happen to make this right.

First, she wants a court order to keep her neighbor away from her. Second, she wants Barth to be disciplined.

The DA’s Office says Barth didn’t say or do anything wrong, so he won’t be disciplined. As to the first, I asked Stackow if it’s possible to refile the charges and go to court.

The office could, but won’t.

Why?

Hart-Barnes lacks evidence, Stackow says. It’s her word against her neighbor’s, and that won’t get a conviction.

Stackow met with Hart-Barnes and they “had a good conversation, and I tried to steer her in the right direction once I realized this case was one we wouldn’t be able to prove,” says Stackow. One option, he says, is for her to bring a civil suit against her neighbor.

“If I have to get a lawyer, I will,” Hart-Barnes says.

If she wants justice, she knows she’s on her own.