Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Was it a dust-up or an assault?

Judge to rule on neighbours' dispute

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It began with routine landscaping in the backyard of a Tuxedo home. It ended with allegations of racism and assault between a Winnipeg doctor and a Canadian Forces reservist.

A Manitoba judge will decide whether an ugly dispute between neighbours is a criminal act.

Joseph Zielinski, 49, has pleaded not guilty to assault causing bodily harm and will learn his fate on Friday. A provincial court trial ended last week with Zielinski testifying in his own defence. He said he is a victim of bogus allegations.

Neurologist Dr. Francis Dominique, 73, and his 76-year-old wife, Vydha, told a much different story. They say Zielinski leaped over the fence separating their homes and launched into a violent rage in May 2007.

The dispute began when the Dominiques had some large trees removed and branches and needles fell into Zielinski's yard. The couple -- who are originally from Trinidad -- say Zielinski grabbed a leaf blower and shot the debris back toward them. They say he pulled a similar stunt the previous winter by spraying snow into their yard.

"We both told him to stop it but he continued," Vydha Dominique testified. She claimed Zielinski ignored their demands and threatened them instead. "He told us to go back where we came from. He said he would come over and beat our old asses," she said.

The couple threatened to get the police involved, which prompted Zielinski to become even more enraged.

"He called us a (racial slur). He repeated that several times. Obscenities were used as well..." said Vydha Dominique.

As she walked to her home to call 911, she turned back and saw Zielinski on top of her husband.

"Mr. Zielinski was kneeing on his thighs, pounding on his chest," she said. The woman said she picked up a small stick and hit Zielinski but because of her limited mobility, which includes walking with a cane, she was unsuccessful.

"I was trying to hit him on the back, to get him away from him," she said. "I was scared he was damaging my husband. He could have died, anything could have happened. I was scared."

Dominique said she went back towards the house and called for help. Zielinski eventually got off her husband and returned to his yard. She said her husband was bleeding from the nose and had an injury to his groin.

Zielinski agreed he was cleaning his yard but told court it was the doctor who went on a verbal tirade. "He started yelling at me. I told him to go back into his home. He then picked up a branch or a stick and jabbed it at me through the fence," Zielinski testified.

Defence lawyer Ed Murphy produced several photographs in court that show scratches on Zielinski's neck and chest.

"He started to taunt me, motioning for me to do something about it. At one point, he picked up a log and threw it towards me, but I think it hit the top of his fence and fell back into his yard," said Zielinski. He said the doctor threw leaves and small sticks at him. Zielinski said he never taunted the couple with racist terms, never left his yard and never laid a hand on the doctor. He videotaped a subsequent incident that captured the doctor yelling racial epithets. The footage was shown in court last week.

"There is obviously some bad blood here. It's sufficient enough to make a false allegation," Murphy told court. Dominique told the Free Press in a previous interview he regrets his reaction to the incident. A handful of neighbours reported having verbal disputes with Zielinski, who moved into the neighbourhood nine years ago with his wife and son. None of the neighbours was called to testify.

The Dominiques say they have built a higher fence, installed a security camera and purchased a dog because they fear for their safety. Zielinski is employed with Canadian Forces 17 Wing.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2010 B1

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