By his own admission, Jack Abrams lost it when a woman left the door to the laundry room open at Northlake Villa Condominium one day in January 2010.
Before he was done venting about the woman’s carelessness, Abrams had pumped three bullets into her boyfriend, who had merely popped his head into the hallway to find out what all the shouting was about.
The bloody incident may have ended last year when Abrams, 40, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for shooting Tim Gwinnell, who was unarmed. But, because Abrams had been appointed by the condo board to enforce its rules and regulations, a Palm Beach County jury last week found the board was liable for Abrams’ inexplicable fit of anger.
After deliberating for roughly five hours, a jury agreed the North Palm Beach condominium should pay $1.5 million to the 56-year-old Gwinnell, who underwent 24 blood transfusions, 12 surgeries, including facial reconstruction, and faces additional operations to rebuild his bullet-ravaged body.
A security expert who testified during the roughly eight-day trial said such poor decision-making by neighborhood and condo associations is becoming increasingly common, said attorney Tracy Sharpe, who represents Gwinnell. While it is unlikely the small condo complex near the Intracoastal Waterway even needed a security guard, its leaders essentially deputized Abrams, with the help of his girlfriend, who served on the board. No background checks were done.
Had they investigated, board members might have discovered that Abrams received an “other than honorable discharge” in 2000 from the U.S. Marines Corps for drug use and other character flaws. A psychiatrist and psychologist who examined him as part of the criminal case agreed he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and paranoia.
Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Richard Oftedal, who reviewed their reports before rejecting Abrams’ claims that he should be granted immunity for the shooting under the state’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, found other factors figured into Abrams near-murderous rampage.
“It is far more likely that (Abrams) acted not out of self-defense, but out of the pent-up anger, frustration, and rage which had been building within him throughout the day and which, combined with (his) admitted intoxication, led him to violently lash out at the very next person who incurred his wrath,” Oftedal wrote.
Indeed, Sharpe said, Abrams’ outburst could have been worse. When North Palm Beach police searched his apartment, they discovered an arsenal of weapons, including five guns, seven combat knives and 1,400 rounds of ammunition. Further, his girlfriend, who helped him get a concealed weapons permit, and others testified about Abrams’ increasingly erratic behavior. He accosted people in the parking lot if they didn’t park their cars between the lines. The day before he shot Gwinnell, he told one resident: “I’m getting so sick and tired of this laundry room. I’m going to kill someone over it.”
The condo’s experience should be a warning to others, Sharpe said. “You can’t get behind someone who’s mentally ill, who’s exhibited violence and who has accumulated a stockpile of weapons,” he said. “They took a safe haven community and laid people in the path of violence.”
Even disregarding Abrams’ psychological problems, the board violated its own rules when it empowered him to patrol the complex, Sharpe said. Only unit owners can received such appointments. Abrams wasn’t an owner. He was living with his girlfriend.
And the financial wounds of the condominium might not be over. To avoid the expense of a trial, Sharpe said he offered to settle the case for $1 million, the limits of the association’s insurance policy. The board refused.
Because the jury awarded more than he requested to settle the case, Sharpe can now ask that the condominium be forced to pay Gwinnell’s attorney’s fees. The condominium could appeal the verdict and fight his request for attorney’s fees. Their attorneys didn’t return a phone call for comment.