TAMPA, Fla. — A Hillsborough County homeowner's attempt to kick trespassers off of her property ends with police putting her in handcuffs.
ABC Action News has learned, the two-day dispute from mid-October has sparked an internal investigation by the Tampa Police Department.
Linda Meade bought her first home four decades ago on South Himes Avenue in Tampa. It's a sentimental property for her family as they've rented it out over the years, including to her daughter who now acts as the property manager.
"This is definitely my baby," said Meade. "I've learned to work on houses from this house."
Meade was shocked to learn from neighbors this month someone was sleeping in the yard and eventually got inside the vacant house. Meade was out of state visiting her father when she got the alarming news.
"It was the most horrible thing knowing somebody else was in my house, my property, without my authorization," said Meade.
The unknown and unwanted house guests moved themselves in sometime around October 1. Meade called police to the property October 12 and to her surprise, police told her she was the one who had to leave.
"Honestly, I kind of felt like I was living in the twilight zone," Meade's daughter, Jenna, said. "It really blew me away that my mother was told to leave her property. She was also told that they had a right to be here and she would have to go through court proceedings."
According to a Tampa Police report, the people in question told officers they paid "Bill Stout" more than $1,000 to move in. But the report states they had no paperwork or proof the lease existed.
Officers told Meade she needed to take the dispute to civil court, a costly process that could take up to 60 days to resolve.
"It bothered me that I had to go through all of that heartache and the police not believe me," said Meade. "I was told to get off my property and to leave and to let these people in here."
Responding officers told Meade the people in question were using adverse possession to stay in the house. It's a process that takes several years to establish in Florida.
They had only been living in the house a few days.
Attorney Kirk Eason, of Palmetto Law, says property disputes get tricky for investigating officers when it involves a secondary property, not a person's primary home.
"When it’s a secondary home and especially if the person is saying we’re taking it by adverse possession or we’re taking it by a lease that someone gave to us, there’s a lot more the police have to look into because they have to prove who’s entitled to possession of the property," said Eason.
Meade returned to the property the next day and tensions escalated between the two parties. Tampa Police officers claim Meade threatened to physically harm the unknown subjects inside the home, which she denies.
Officers put Meade in handcuffs and threatened to arrest her, which was all recorded by her daughter, Jenna.
"Red flags just started going off, it was like an alarm, OK I’m being treated like a criminal here when we’re really the victims," said Jenna Meade.
That Sunday, a Tampa Police supervisor arrived at the property and called the State Attorney's Office. An attorney with the SAO ultimately decided those unknown subjects were trespassing and ordered them out of Meade's house.
Meade was forced out of her own home for more than 24 hours.
"They were believing these people in the house and not believing me. They were giving them more rights than me and that’s what hurt me a whole lot," said Meade.
Meade and her daughter both filed complaints with Tampa Police. The agency has opened an internal investigation into how responding officers handled the dispute.
If you want to protect your property, Eason urges all owners to sign up for the Trespass Affidavit Program, offered by Tampa Police. The affidavit gives any Tampa Police officer the right to act as the owner's representative in warning anyone found in violation of the affidavit to leave, and to arrest violators if they refuse.