Home / Development / LaCrosse Child, 1, Injured In Tenant-Landlord Dispute

LaCrosse Child, 1, Injured In Tenant-Landlord Dispute

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Water damage in Michael Mathieu’s LaCrosse rental trailer resulted in a section of the ceiling rotting. Mathieu said his landlord, Joan Ellen Pakula, wouldn’t work on repairing the trailer, and a dispute between the two turned into a physical altercation. (Sara Marino/WUFT News)

For months, Michael Mathieu and his family lived with 6-inch fungus colonies inside their LaCrosse trailer.

The fungus — which also grew on the roof as a result of water damage — pushed open holes in the ceiling, and the holes widened as more water seeped in, Mathieu said.

Mathieu said he asked his landlord, Joan Ellen Pakula, to fix the holes, which eventually resulted in the trailer’s walls collapsing. Pakula indicated she would fix the trailer, he said, but she never did.

“We took her word and moved into this place,” the 28-year-old unemployed man said. “That’s when things started getting really crazy.”

Mathieu said the dispute eventually evolved into a physical altercation that left his 1-year-old son with a dislocated hip.

Pakula didn’t respond to multiple calls from WUFT News seeking comment.

She told deputies that she came to the trailer on Sept. 7 to collect a late payment for rent and to return some of Mathieu’s belongings, according to an Alachua County Sheriff’s Office report.

When Mathieu wouldn’t pay Pakula because of the maintenance issues, Pakula threw Mathieu’s shirt at him, which hit Mathieu in the chest and face, according to the report.

Mathieu said fungus, like in his bedroom (pictured), caused damage to his trailer. (Sara Marino/WUFT News)
Mathieu said fungus, like in his bedroom (pictured), caused damage to his trailer. (Sara Marino/WUFT News)

Pakula then went onto the porch and yelled into the house that Mathieu and his family were being evicted, the report says. While yelling, Pakula pushed Mathieu on the right shoulder, which caused him to trip over a baby gate, fall to the ground and hit his head on a door knob.

The fall caused Mathieu to black out, and the gate landed on his son’s leg, according to the report.

Though the report says “there was no lasting injury to the child,” Mathieu said his son’s hip was dislocated in the altercation.

“He quit walking after this attack happened,” Mathieu said. “He would just walk and scream.”

Pakula then left, and someone from the trailer called police, according to the report. Later that day, police met Pakula at a gas station in LaCrosse and, after talking with her, arrested her on two counts of battery and one of child negligence without great bodily harm.

Pakula has since been released from jail.

Mathieu, who moved into the trailer this year, presented a business card to WUFT News that named Pakula as “Honey J” and had Bosshardt Realty’s logo at the top. A Bosshardt representative said, though, that Pakula was terminated in 2012, but the representative declined to comment further.

Mathieu and his family, which also includes his girlfriend and two other children, have since moved out of the trailer and are now represented by Gainesville attorney Robert Bauer.

Joan Ellen Pakula (Photo from the Alachua County Sheriff's Office)
Joan Ellen Pakula (Photo from the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office)

“The allegations of the assault and battery were very concerning since it happened in the presence of a child,” Bauer said. “We hope to get justice for our clients and get a message to this landlord that she can’t treat people this way.”

The best way for people to avoid such conflicts is to simply leave, said Art Forgey, an Alachua County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.

“Any time that you find yourself in a situation that could possibly lead to an assault, the best advice is to remove yourself from the situation,” he said. “Communicate through emails — for records sake — or through a third party.”

“Also,” he added, “many times informing the other person you are recording the encounter [may] stop any potential for it turning violent.”

About Sara Marino

Sara is a reporter for WUFT News and can be reached at news@wuft.org or 352-392-6397.

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