Hot Potato

In August 2005, Nathan Thinnes sold his house. It must have been a relief.

Coming home from work one evening, just days before the closing, Thinnes heard his dog whimpering in the backyard of his small home near Arcadia. You can see Camelback Mountain from the yard, but Nathan Thinnes wasn't outside to enjoy the view.

As he would later tell police, Thinnes found his dog hiding under some bushes, with several potatoes laying on the ground nearby. As he stood there, another potato sailed over the fence.

A police report details what happened next.

Thinnes called out, "Who's there?"

His next-door neighbor, 46-year-old Candy Tatum, answered, "Me, you f---ing pussy."

Thinnes asked, "Have you been throwing things at my dog again?"

Tatum answered, "Yep, what are you going to do about it, you f---ing chickensh-t?"

Thinnes saw Tatum, standing in her backyard, a potato in her hand. She threw it. This one almost hit Thinnes; he yelled at her to stop. She threw another one, yelling, "Next time, stay out of my freezer, you f---ing little pussy."

Thinnes ran with his dog into the house, just as another potato flew into the air, landing on the roof.

Like many officers in his precinct, Officer Donald Garcia was not at all surprised to be dispatched to East Montecito. But usually, the 911 calls came from the potato-thrower herself, Candy Tatum. The police tallied 701 calls from Tatum in 2004.

Officer Garcia counted 10 potatoes in Thinnes' backyard and then arrested Tatum for disorderly conduct. (Another police report states that on a separate occasion, Tatum answered her front door with a shotgun in hand.) Court records have been destroyed, but it appears that the potato case never made it to court.

Tatum screamed and yelled as Garcia cuffed her and dragged her to his squad car. "I am sorry if I hit [Nathan] with a potato," Tatum said, again accusing Thinnes of stealing from her freezer.

Garcia documented that an angry but cooperative Thinnes told him that "this type of activity has been going on since he moved in. Nathan was completely frustrated with Candy's action and demanded that she be arrested because her actions alarmed and disturbed him. Nathan was also furious that Candy had been torturing his dog."

Six days later, Thinnes closed on the sale of his house and moved to a home a few miles away. Two years later, that August 2005 police report has come back to haunt him.

So has the seller-disclosure paperwork, a legal requirement in Arizona. In it, the seller is asked, "Are you aware if the property is subject to any present or proposed effects of any of the following? (Check all that apply) . . . Neighborhood noise . . . Nuisances . . . Other."

Nathan Thinnes had answered, "No."

No one would say that Glenn Melton got a smoking deal on Nathan Thinnes' house. Melton, the chief operating officer for Realty Executives, paid $297,000 for the 1,000-square-foot house. His stepdaughter, Kelly, soon moved in. Two years later, the house has dipped in value by $35,000. But that's not what's making the Meltons unhappy, they insist. They say Thinnes should have told them about Candy Tatum.

Thinnes, who also is in the real estate business, as a commercial broker for Grubb & Ellis, says Melton has buyer's remorse because the market has tanked. In any case, these two have spent more than $40,000 in a lawsuit that could ultimately set a new precedent for Arizona home sellers, a case that has the attention of national mental health advocates. The question at hand: Should a seller be required to diagnose his neighbor's mental health?

If Melton wins, Thinnes could be forced to buy the house back for the original price and pay an unspecified amount for emotional damages.

In a lawsuit that reads like a script from a Seinfeld episode or maybe a Crazy Cat Lady scene from The Simpsons, Melton accuses Thinnes of acting with "an evil mind, malice, and a reckless disregard" because he didn't disclose that Tatum sometimes wanders the street muttering to herself, and that she once threw a brick through a neighbor's window.

Melton contends that his stepdaughter is living in dire danger, but after two years, Kelly still lives at the house. (And not with her stepdad, who has his own 3,000-square-foot home in Scottsdale.)

Parts of the case are entertaining, à la Seinfeld. But here's where it's made for public television: This case could break legal ground. Mental health experts warn that if Melton wins, Arizona sellers could be expected to disclose their personal opinions on a neighbor's mental health — a first in the country.