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Mansfield woman says Arlington officer offered her possessions on Craigslist without her consent

MANSFIELD - Sherry Johnson Huwitt was standing at her kitchen window in her bathrobe shortly before dawn a couple of weeks ago when two strangers pulled up and started loading the portable basketball goal from the side of her house into a truck.

MANSFIELD - Sherry Johnson Huwitt was standing at her kitchen window in her bathrobe shortly before dawn a couple of weeks ago when two strangers pulled up and started loading the portable basketball goal from the side of her house into a truck.


Sherry Johnson Huwitt says that when she recently confronted strangers who were about to haul off a portable basketball goal from outside her house, they told her the item had been offered for giveaway in an ad on Craigslist.

When the Mansfield woman ran outside to confront them, they said they weren't stealing because the item was offered for the taking on Craigslist.

"What the hell is Craigslist?" she asked.

Huwitt had never heard of the advertising Web site and hadn't posted any such ad. Someone else did: Free basket ball goal and tether ball pole. At dead end of roadway beside my home...(address) dont knock its placed out there for you to come get. will delete when gone. thanks.

The e-mail address Craigslist identified as the sender of the ad belongs to one of Huwitt's neighbors, Chad Lee Hickey, an Arlington police officer. Arlington Police Department spokesman Blake Miller will say only that the department is conducting an internal investigation of an employee.

Hickey, 29, could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Richard Carter, said Arlington police rules prohibit him or Hickey from discussing the allegations.

Meanwhile, Mansfield police and the Tarrant County district attorney's office are trying to determine whether a crime has been committed.

"The reporting officer originally wrote the offense for forgery," said Sgt. Stan Davis of the Mansfield Police Department. "We don't really know what the offense is yet. There are several different offenses that might fit. That's why the district attorney is reviewing it, to find out if there is a criminal offense and, if so, to find out which offense fits the best."

Regardless of what law enforcement officials eventually decide, Huwitt believes she has been victimized and says Hickey should at least lose his job.

"He put my life in danger, and my daughters," she said. "I just ran out there. Those guys could have killed me.

"I could have grabbed a shotgun and shot it over nothing," she said. "And he's a police officer. How can he endanger people's lives like that?"

The case is a first for veteran Tarrant County prosecutor Dixie Bersano.

"I'm having to look up a lot of the law," she said, "to determine one, if the law was broken, and what that law is."

Lots of strangers

When the first two men told her about the ad and offered to unload the basketball goal from their truck, Huwitt called her husband.

He said that he didn't place the Craigslist ad. But he told her that the men could have the goal because he planned to buy a new one anyway.

Craigslist deleted the ad, but strangers came by the Huwitt house all day. "Me and my neighbor had to run them off," she said.

Despite those efforts, someone eventually made off with the tetherball pole.

Huwitt and her family have lived for three years in the Remington Ranch neighborhood, which is billed by the homeowners association as "a community of 'good-ole' friendly neighbors."

Her husband, Leon, serves on the board of the homeowners association. Dewayne Morris, a vice president of the association and a friend of Leon Huwitt, described him as "one of the most upstanding members of our neighborhood."

The Huwitts' home was honored as "yard of the month" last year, Morris said.

Association president Daryle Perez declined to comment, saying the incident was an issue between neighbors, not a board matter. He did confirm that Hickey and his wife recently resigned from the association's Declarations & Bylaws Committee.

According to a copy of the resignation letter provided by Sherry Huwitt, Hickey apologized "for any and all upset feelings. Due to the items needing to be removed since they were not properly taken care of, I thought of a solution that was wrong to a valid issue. I regret my decision and wish I could take it back."

Huwitt, 46, said she does not have any more "junk" in her yard than anyone else and is not aware of any other Remington Ranch resident being the victim of such an ad.

"To me, it's racial," said Huwitt, who is black. Hickey is white. "You can look at it any other way, but that's the way I look at it."

Civil case?

David Ardia, director of the Citizen Law Project at the Berkland Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, said the dispute probably belongs in a civil, not criminal, court.

"My intuition is that there isn't likely to be something you can charge him with," Ardia said. "Things like fraud and forgery and those kinds of crimes are really meant to address people who engage in these kinds of activities to benefit themselves financially. ... Perhaps he's benefiting in some way from her yard having fewer things in it, but that's not the kind of benefit that laws are meant to prevent."

This kind of incident "leaves a bad taste in your mouth and you think to yourself, 'something has happened here that feels wrong,' " he said. "But we can't have, don't have, a set of criminal laws that go after everything that feels wrong in our society."

Internet advertising is a new tool, Ardia added, but "these are things people have been doing to hurt others for ... years."

In the past, people posted fake classified ads in newspapers, scrawled "call for a good time" telephone numbers on the bathroom wall, or posted false garage sale signs on neighborhood telephone poles.

But with the Internet, "it's easier to do it, perhaps, and certainly able to reach more people."

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