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3 On Your Side

Peoria homeowner paints 'middle finger' on house; neighbors outraged

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According to Ernie Leas, he painted a giant middle finger on the front of is garage door because of an ongoing feud with his neighbors that started 20 years ago. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) According to Ernie Leas, he painted a giant middle finger on the front of is garage door because of an ongoing feud with his neighbors that started 20 years ago. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Leas explained his side of the story to 3 On Your Side's Gary Harper. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Leas explained his side of the story to 3 On Your Side's Gary Harper. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
He's now getting underneath his neighbor's skin by having a professional artist paint a purple, graffiti-themed mural on the front of his brick home. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) He's now getting underneath his neighbor's skin by having a professional artist paint a purple, graffiti-themed mural on the front of his brick home. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(3 ON YOUR SIDE) -

In a peaceful little Peoria neighborhood, you'll find well-manicured lawns and a general sense of pride when it comes to home ownership.

But there's one particular house in the area that's causing a firestorm of controversy, and it's owned by Ernie Leas.

“Hi, I wanted to talk to you about your artwork,” 3 On Your Side’s Gary Harper said as he approached Leas in his driveway.

“Sure,” Leas replied, smiling.

According to Leas, he painted a giant middle finger on the front of his garage door because of an ongoing feud with his neighbors that started 20 years ago.

"This guy over here has probably called the cops on me a dozen times,” Leas said. “That guy, half a dozen times. That guy, half a dozen times. I have never called the cops on any of these people once."

Frustrated, he painted the middle finger on his garage door to show his displeasure for those living around him. 

“Why do you think the neighbors are having such a hard time with you?” Harper asked.

“Well, I've noticed there's kind of a clique here,” Leas said. “We have a teacher there, a teacher there, a teacher there, a dump truck driver and a teacher there," he said pointing to each house.

Leas claims the one finger salute led him to being charged with disorderly conduct by Peoria police but says he beat it.

“I hired a lawyer, and I had to defend myself. The prosecutor realized that it's free speech," Leas said.

The middle finger stayed up for nearly a year, and Leas eventually took it down.

But now, he's getting underneath his neighbors' skin by having a professional artist paint a purple, graffiti-themed mural on the front of his brick home.

“What about the skull?" Harper asked, pointing to a spooking skull painted on Leas’ brick home. “That doesn't seem very friendly or neighborly.”

“It's actually a Joker,” Leas replied. “You see it a lot on the Google. It's the Joker."

As for neighbors, they all claim they've tried to get along with Leas, but say his actions are odd.

He keeps a pickup truck full of toilets in his driveway. He's posted yellow caution tape all around his property. A "Keep Out" sign is posted by his front door.

And he even keeps an old ice cream truck parked out front even though he doesn't sell ice cream. And now, there's the purple mural which Leas says will eventually stretch across his entire home.

Neighbors say their home values are plummeting because of what Leas is doing. 

“It's not that it's colorful,” said Annie Vargas who lives across the street. “I wouldn't mind it if it was just color. But there's a horrible face (Joker) on there, and that is frightening."

Leas’ mural is not only causing the neighborhood to fuss, but it's also causing arguments and turning neighbor against neighbor.

Harry Domas lives in the neighborhood and says the critics should leave Leas alone.

“He owns the house,” Domas said. “He can do what he wants because this is the United States of America. We have freedom to do what we please as long as we're not hurting somebody else.”

It's a sentiment that Peoria city officials say they reluctantly have to agree with because there is absolutely no code on the books that can stop what Leas is doing.

“This is his private property,” said Jay Davies of the Peoria Police Department. “He certainly has a right under the First Amendment to express himself, and we have to respect that.”

Authorities with the City of Peoria say they will continue to keep an eye on this neighborhood and monitor any developments.

Neighbors are considering creating a small HOA for their street. That way, homeowners say they could create rules and establish a Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions, also known as CC&Rs. Those CC&Rs would put Leas’ painted house in violation, and legal action could be taken.

But for now, two things are definite. The tension in this neighborhood will continue to mount, and Leas will go on expressing himself.

In fact, just days after 3 On Your Side's visit, homeowners in the area sent a video of Leas sketching out a new middle finger.

“Let me ask you this,” Harper said. “You seem like a reasonable guy. Is there any way we can patch things up between you and the rest of the neighbors?"

“I've been asking myself that now for 20 years,” Leas replied.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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Gary HarperGary Harper is the senior consumer and investigative reporter for 3 On Your Side at KTVK-TV.

Click to learn more about Gary.

Gary Harper
3 On Your Side

With more than 20 years of television experience, Gary has established himself as a leader in the industry when it comes to assisting viewers and resolving their consumer-related issues. His passion and enthusiasm have helped him earn an Emmy for Best Consumer Reporter from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He’s also garnered several Emmy nominations

He has negotiated resolutions with companies of all sizes, including some of the biggest corporations in the nation.

Gary has successfully recouped more than $1 million for viewers around the state, making 3 On Your Side one of the most popular segments on KTVK and the station's Web site.

He's best known for investigating and confronting unscrupulous contractors. In fact, many of his news reports have led to police investigations and jail time for those who were caught. Viewers, as well as the companies and people he investigates, regard him as consistently being thorough and fair.

Gary has been with KTVK-TV since 1997. Prior to his arrival in Phoenix, he worked for WZZM-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he was as an anchor and reporter.

Gary is from Chicago, but launched his television career in Lubbock, Texas, after earning a broadcast journalism degree from Texas Tech University. Following his graduation, he was quickly hired by KLBK-TV in Lubbock, where he enterprised and broke numerous exclusive reports. His aggressive reporting in Texas helped garner him Best Reporter by the Associated Press.

Gary has been married since 1994 and is the proud father of two sons. When he's not helping viewers, Gary is busy catching up on his favorite college and professional football teams as well as cheering on his beloved Texas Tech Red Raiders.

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