After 15 minutes of talking about his super, George O'Connor has to stop and reach for the Advil. He's 83, and has lived in his rent-stabilized one-bedroom at 60 Turner Place in Brooklyn for 38 years. Since superintendent Herchin Ablai started in 2006 or 2007, O'Connor says he has spent two years being treated for stress and high blood pressure at Kingsbrook Jewish Hospital. He attributes the problems to Ablai: "I would go [into the hospital] and the lady would say, 'How is the super? Is he gone?'"

O'Connor had problems with Ablai's manner from the get-go, particularly his habit of showing up at the door unannounced, and of calling neighbors things like, "that black woman on the second floor."

"You don't refer to people by their color!" O'Connor said.

In March, O'Connor says his bathroom was flooded with sewage for two days, and when plumbers came, he noticed Ablai walking "in and out and in and out," though he was doing no work himself. Then O'Connor noticed the black, beeper-sized box hanging around Ablai's neck, and realized it was a body camera. "I told him, 'Don't come back in here!'"

Since then, Ablai has come to wear the body camera wherever he goes, and O'Connor has grown more adamant about turning him away.

"Everything that you do daily, he has a camera," he said. "You don't come to my door with a camera! I don't go to his door with a camera, and when his wife comes to the door take a picture!"

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George O'Connor saw crime around 60 Turner Place in the 1980s and 1990s, but "never anything like this." (Nathan Tempey/Gothamist)

When O'Connor moved in, the 130-unit building was "beautiful. Cab drivers dropping me off used to ask me: You live here?" It was also majority white. O'Connor is Jamaican and says his family was just one of two black or West Indian families that he knew at first. As the economic downturn gripped the city, white people moved out, more black and West Indian people moved in, and the building, as well as swaths of the neighborhood, fell into disrepair.

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George O'Connor, leaving 60 Turner for his son's college graduation in 1982.

O'Connor, meanwhile, raised a family, worked as an anesthesia technician and tuxedo salesman, and did what he could to keep the place clean and safe. He recalls attending NYPD 70th Precinct Community Council meetings, and giving officers his cellphone number so that he could buzz them in during the early morning hours to roust teens hanging around out back without giving them a chance to escape into the lobby.

The building is situated on the western edge of Prospect Park South, Ditmas Park, or the part of Flatbush with the Victorian mansions, depending on whom you ask and when they turned up in the area. Those who have turned up lately have expensive taste. A coffee shop opened in 2012 selling $9 sandwiches with homemade pesto two blocks away on Church Avenue, and a sourdough-pizza and wheated-bourbon cocktail place followed the next year. This summer, actor Michelle Williams bought one of the palatial mansions on nearby Albermarle Road for $2.5 million, and construction of a six-story apartment building began next door to 60 Turner. There is of course a racial component to all of this change.

"The whites all moved out, the blacks moved in, and then it all went around in a circle," O'Connor said.

The companies Double A Properties and ADI Management, which share staff and both communicate with building residents, bought 60 Turner at a foreclosure auction in 1979 for $1,000. At first, the building was managed by Leonard Spodek and a relative. Spodek became known in the 1980s and early 1990s as the "Dracula landlord," serving two jail stints and getting fined more than $1.4 million for the thousands of violations in his Brooklyn buildings that went unaddressed for more than half a decade. A woman named Rosalind Spodek remains a principal at ADI.

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60 Turner Place (Nathan Tempey/Gothamist)

O'Connor remembers Leonard Spodek as "a nice guy," and says the building, and the civility of management really went downhill starting when ADI partner Herbert Donner took over day-to-day operations in the mid-1990s. Then Ablai started.

"I've never seen anything like this," O'Connor said. "My God."

He misses the summer nights where elderly people would sit out along the sidewalk in front and he could offer to pick something up from the store on his way out. Now a sign in the lobby window reads "NO LOITERING NO SITTING IN FRONT OF BUILDING ALLOWED" and a sharp edge has been added to the railing atop the ledge out front to discourage sitting. Before the railing went in, in 2008 or 2009, George recalls waiting for a ride out front, leaning on the ledge, and standing up to find the back of his shirt lined with grease. Further inspection revealed the ledge had been coated with the stuff, and neighbor Jena Starkes says Ablai admitted to greasing the ledge.

"Now you can't go outside without him standing there like a police officer, staring at you," O'Connor said.

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Red tape makes a night-time ban on loud noise an around-the-clock ban on loud noise. (Nathan Tempey/Gothamist)

In the lobby hall, the "NO LOUD NOISE PERMITTED 10 PM-8 AM" sign now has red tape across it obscuring the times. Tenants report that Ablai enforces the noise ban by coming out of his lobby apartment when people stop to speak to one another. He asks what they're doing, demands that they stop talking, or worse. Once, O'Connor said he was talking to a young woman in the hall and Ablai walked up behind them, sprayed an aerosol can at them three times, and stomped off.

The noise prohibition doesn't square with the music being piped into the lobby throughout the day, a mix of Top 40 and fist-pumping club music. Tenant association president Hazel Duke said she was speaking to three other tenants in the lobby last fall when Ablai came down the hall blowing a whistle, then went into a control room and cranked up the volume.

When he came out, she asked if there was something wrong with the PA system. She says he responded, "Is there something wrong you black people, always making noise?"

In a response to Duke's discrimination lawsuit, lawyers for ADI Management refer to Ablai's question as "a stray remark" and suggested the suit was payback for her dissatisfaction with a fix to gaps in her windows. But similar stories were easy to come by among the 11 current and former tenants we spoke to.

Janice Marshall, a housekeeper who lives alone in a rent-stabilized studio, says that in 2010, when she objected to Ablai wearing his dirty shoes in her apartment to look at a running toilet, he spit in her face and raised his hand to punch her (Ablai claims she punched him and that he didn't call the police because he "didn't need the trouble"). Marshall's criminal complaint went into mediation, but the process remains officially unresolved, according to documents reviewed by Gothamist.

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Ablai objected to sunflowers planted by a tenant, saying he didn't realize how tall they'd grow and they were casting shadows on his hydrangeas. (Jena Starkes)

Last fall, the newly formed tenant association met to discuss these and other issues—late fees of $90 tacked onto on-time rent payments, repair charges of $200 or more added for dents and scratches to common areas—but after three meetings, management banned them from using the community room off of the lobby. Now, the room is locked and crammed with exercise equipment, house plants, and a fan one woman says Ablai stole from the apartment of her elderly aunt. The community room had in the past hosted events such as a fundraiser to send building kids to summer camp, and its removal from common use seems to violate a New York law protecting the rights of tenants to organize and to meet in a community room.

Asked about the loss of the room, Ablai said that the 20-40 people who attended meetings were too much for the space, but that five or six people would be welcome. He also questioned the validity of the tenant group, saying, "It's not a real association. They don't cooperate with management, they don't cooperate with the super."

Over the winter, Ablai told Jena Starkes, a newly arrived web designer sharing a market-rate three-bedroom with her 77-year-old mom, that she could plant in flower beds out back. She lined the beds with sunflowers, and they thrived, growing to several feet until July 8th, when Starkes says she looked out her living room window and saw Ablai and his wife ripping them out. She ran downstairs barefoot, and says he grabbed her arm and dragged her in the screaming match that ensued. Police took her complaint as harassment, but haven't pursued it further.

Ablai denies touching Starkes and offered to provide the footage to Gothamist, but later said he had made "a mistake" in speaking with us and deferred questions to management. The principals of ADI did not respond to calls requesting comment.

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Jena Starkes harvested her contentious sunflowers' seeds and gave them out to neighbors. She has no plans to plant more as long as Ablai is around. (Nathan Tempey/Gothamist)

Before the sunflower incident, Starkes, who shares a three-bedroom with her 77-year-old mother, says Ablai would spot her weeding on the building's surveillance system and come outside to quiz her on her comings and goings. He would, she says, warn her about "those people" who might destroy her flower beds, and lowering his voice, clarify "the black people." Now, Starkes believes that Ablai was brought in by the landlords to harass the rent-stabilized tenants, the vast majority of them black, West Indian, and Central American, but lost control of him somewhere along the way. How else to explain alienating someone paying $3,000 a month? She loves her neighbors and her recently remodeled apartment—apart from the mold so severe it's sprouting toadstools—but Ablai has her on edge.

"It's the nicest apartment I've ever lived in, and I don't want to have to leave it," she said. "Apart from the super."

Since Ablai started wearing the camera, the mood among tenants we spoke to has grown paranoid. Some have taken to meeting in the stairwells to avoid the surveillance cameras. Some won't let Ablai in their apartments at all. Others will only let him in on the condition that he leave his camera.

"Everyone's walking on pins and needles," Duke said. "We can't talk in the lobby, can't talk in the laundry room, can't sit in the front of the building, can't sit in the back of the building. We just want to be able to come home and put our feet up. People say they're not comfortable anymore."

Ablai likes things this way. Breaking up groups of people is "management's decision, not mine. [People sitting outside] bother the neighbors," he said, imitating mouths flapping with his hands, making a sound like a developmentally disabled bird. "Before I didn't have a camera, that's why they jumped over me. With the camera, it's quiet now in the building."


Brooklyn's Body-Camera-Wearing Super Denies...by Gothamist

Duke estimates that seven families move out a year, and that for every two black families that move out, one moves in. Liz Miller, who is white, moved out of the rent-stabilized one-bedroom apartment she shared with her boyfriend in August, ending seven years in the building, and opening her apartment up to deregulation. She works at a custom frame shop and though she says she had problems with a sewage leak that caused mushrooms to grow out of her bathroom ceiling, the apartment was more spacious and convenient than where she lives now. She says monthly late fees of 5 percent on top of her $1,842 rent persisted even after she started paying directly through her bank, and repairs were slow in coming.

"I do feel that I was harassed out of that building," she said, adding, "I couldn't handle the two weeks out of the month I would have to spend on the phone with the management company arguing about fees."

She said she didn't have any interpersonal problems with the super, and she thinks it has to do with her skin color.

"He's kind of lazy and doesn't do his job," she said. "But he doesn't scream at anybody or spit on them if they're white. It's kind of accepted in the building that he's racist."

We ran all of this by three housing lawyers to see what recourse 60 Turner tenants might have.

"I don't have any doubt in my mind that this is harassment," said Sam Himmelstein of the tenant-side firm Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph. He added, "This is like a reign of terror, and I'm not one for hyperbole."

He and James Fishman of Fishman & Mallon agreed said that past court decisions have established that landlords can have cameras in hallways, but have to get permission or a court order to photograph inside tenants' apartments, meaning Ablai's body camera should not pass anyone's threshold. But, unfortunately for tenants uncomfortable being photographed whenever they set foot near the building, the rest of the surveillance is probably okay.

"The only thing that [the super is] probably doing here that's not illegal is the body camera," said Edward Josephson, Director of Litigation at Legal Services NYC.

Turner tenants have filed six harassment complaints with the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, and counting. The tenant association has been in touch with several elected officials and attorneys in the last few months, and Assemblyman Jim Brennan sent a letter to the rent-stabilization monitor DHCR asking to expedite the complaints, according to a spokeswoman for Brennan.

In the meantime, they are going about their lives in a building that has eyes, and possibly ears—this summer, Ablai mentioned to O'Connor that he was looking into putting microphones in the elevators. O'Connor no longer speaks to Ablai or management—he communicates only by letter—and when he ventures out of his apartment nowadays, he brings backup.

"I go down with a camera now," he said. "When I go down, I turn it on."

He is not the only one.

Video by Jessica Leibowitz.