Sun City Center, Florida -- When you think about Sun City Center, you might imagine the quiet life of retirees living out their golden years amid golf carts and afternoon card games. Instead, things have gotten a lot more tense lately in the 55+ community.
A condo conflict that involves the area's security patrol.
For three decades, folks living in Sun City have taken pride in patrolling their own neighborhoods, often acting as another set of eyes and ears for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
But a couple of months ago it got political. Then it got nasty. And now - it's going to court.
It's all very sad for people likeNick Avella. He and his wife Chris have been part of a small army of 1,100volunteers that make up Sun City's security patrol.
"You do the best you can for the community, and that's what we do it for,"said Chris.
For 30 years, the security patrol has been Sun City's around-the-clock eyes and ears. Neighbors -- looking after neighbors.
"We are like a family of our down here," says Chris.
But recently it's become more like a family -- feud.
Theretiree rift has gotten so out of hand it's generated a civil lawsuit.
"We've tried to resolve this, but it seems there's no resolution to it," saysthe patrol's newest chief, Robert Powers.
Chief Powerstook over when the former chief was ousted by the patrol's board of directors. But since then, there's been division.
The old faction, says Powers, has even tried tounseat the new board with a special election.
He's personally gotten a threatening letter, he says, "Calling me a coward. A snake."
And, Powers says,it's gone beyond harassment. There have been several cases, he says, of vandalism. Once, someone poured sand into one of the patrol cars gas tanks, and there were several times someone shoved nailsin the patrol vehicles' tires.
"Probably 15 flat tires. Highly unusual," said Powers.
And although the Chief admits he can't prove who's responsible for any of it, the goal of the lawsuit, he says is to bring the feud to finality by "taking it to court and let a judge resolve it".
Short of that, Powers worries the division could lead to the security patrol's demise, because their annual $135,000 budget is funded completely by donations which are down about 30%, he says, ever since the in-fighting began.
"Hopefully, it will all come out and we'll settle it all, and we'll get back to normal again. That's the big thing. We want to get back to normal," said Nick Avella.
The neighborhood has one of the lowest crime rates in the county, in large part, says Powers, because of the work of the all-volunteer patrol.
The lawsuit was just filed this week, so he has not yet received wordof when it would go before a judge.
Follow 10 News Reporter Eric Glasser on twitter @ericglassertv