Property line feud: Newcomers in rural Chattooga County, Georgia, face harassment

Contributed Photo by Robert Devane / Both veterans, Robert and Rebecca Devane bought 73 acres in rural Chattooga County to start a farm but say they have been victimized by a harassment campaign that escalated to shots being fired earlier this month. They're pictured here with their five children.

Robert Devane said he thought he was doing everything right.

He served his country in the U.S. Air Force, married and had five children and was ready to settle down on what he described as a beautiful piece of land in the mountains of Northwest Georgia to start a farm. Devane said he also joined a church and started volunteering in the community.

His neighbors off Nightingale Road in rural Northeast Chattooga County were friendly when the Devanes first bought the land in December 2019, but the harassment began when they started clearing the land to build a home on their 73-acre property.

"It was like they flipped a switch," Devane said in a phone interview.

While suffering from what's become a pattern of verbal harassment and intimidation, Devane said he won a lawsuit he filed to remove a gate blocking his legal access to his property. He said he was threatened with another lawsuit when he tried to run a water line along the road to his house. The Devanes built the house in 2021, moving in in the fall.

Devane said his neighbors regularly drive their four-wheelers by his house yelling, screaming, cussing and even showing rude gestures to his kids when they play outside.

"They'd stalk my wife," he said. "They'd follow her when she was leaving (the property). When she's come back, they'd get behind her ... just childish craziness."

The harassment intensified just before midnight on July 2 when two men on four-wheelers fired off multiple shots while stopped in front of the Devanes' home, he said. The Devanes shared security video of the incident on a local news social media page; a plea for help they hope will pressure law enforcement to act.

"I called them (Chattooga County Sheriff's Office), soon as they (the shooters) left, screaming on 911, 'Y'all get somebody up here,'" Devane said. "I think I even said on 911, I said, 'I told y'all, I told the sheriff, I knew it was gonna get worse. 'Cause no one's done anything. So it's emboldened these people.'"

Devane made it clear he wasn't satisfied with the response of law enforcement - including to the incidents that led up to the shooting, the night it happened or in a follow-up investigation.

Mark Schrader, sheriff of Chattooga County, said he understands Devane wants someone arrested for the shooting, but he isn't certain a crime was committed. There is a law against shooting on a public road, but the road to Devane's house is an easement through private property, Schrader said in a phone interview. If the shooters were under the influence of alcohol, he said, that's another possible crime.

Schrader said authorities haven't found the shooters and haven't been able to contact two nearby property owners.

"I don't know how he could say there was lack of response," Schrader said, because a deputy visited the scene of the shooting that night and sent an investigator the next day. Since then, Schrader said he drove out to the property to talk with Devane personally.

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Schrader said he understands why Devane wanted to have the gate restricting access to his property removed - Devane didn't want his wife to have to exit her vehicle to open it every night - but the gate was there for 30 years and served a purpose. Schrader grew up in the area and said he has investigated multiple burglaries and fires in remote areas of the county.

Many of the area's mountain roads have gates to limit unauthorized access, and he said he also understands the frustration of neighbors when the court ordered the gate to be removed. "Everything soured since then," Schrader said.

"The best thing is if everybody can just get along," he said. "But I'm not sure if that can happen based on what's gone on in the past."

Based on his meeting with Schrader on Friday, Devane said the shooting and broader harassment campaign doesn't seem like it's a priority for the sheriff. The deputies didn't try to find the shooters the night of the incident, he said, and Schrader told him that he hadn't yet spoken with the investigator who came out the day after the shooting.

Devane said he's reached out to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the local District Attorney's Office recently, as well as multiple calls to the sheriff over the past two years. At this point, Devane said he thinks Shrader should turn the investigation over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation because local law enforcement doesn't have the manpower or desire to find the people responsible for the shooting.

A representative of the Victim/Witness Resources Program for the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office "provided assistance to Devane immediately upon learning of the situation," said Chris Arnt, district attorney, in an email response, "despite not having a case for law enforcement."

Arnt said he can't talk about an open case, but said he would go over the situation when authorities make a decision on the case or charge the case after it's resolved.

Devane said he can't get victims advocate assistance because without having a report from the Sheriff's Office listing their children as victims. "The Sheriff's Office is slow rolling doing anything," he said in a follow-up text message.

Chattooga County Sole Commissioner Blake Elsberry didn't return requests for comment.

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Devane said he met his wife, Rebecca, while they were serving in the Air Force. They both served in air medical evacuation, and Robert Devane said he was medically retired after a head injury that occurred when he was on a mission during his deployment in Qatar.

After 14 years in the service, he said he was looking forward to having a farm, raising goats and spending more time with his five children who are all under 10 years old. Robert Devane said his wife suffers from post-traumatic stress made worse by the stress of their situation, and his children are also frightened.

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In multiple interviews with the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Devane said the rest of the community has been welcoming, and he's enjoyed his time volunteering as a soccer coach.

"We just wanted to start a farm and raise our kids," Devane said. "And these people are bringing this to my doorstep. I just don't get it."

McCracken Poston is an attorney with an office in Ringgold. He isn't representing the Devanes but has a friend in Atlanta who served in the Air Force with the couple. Poston said in a phone interview that his friend in Atlanta simply couldn't believe this was happening.

"Unfortunately, in our history, this is what happens when there's not a strong law enforcement presence. And this is a very remote place, so the intimidation factor is exponentially larger because it can take an hour to get a sheriff's car to your house," Poston said.

In a social media thread about the security camera video of the shooting, one person advised the Devanes to arm themselves, and several said to shoot back.

"This is making NWGA (Northwest Georgia) look like 50 years ago, when scared cowards hid in the woods and took potshots at people to terrorize them," Poston said. "But at a house full of children?"

There could be other laws broken by the shooting besides what Schrader mentioned, but Poston said the bottom line is that the sheriff has a peacekeeping role as well as being a law enforcer.

"That's informal, but does carry a lot of weight," he said.

Property line cases can be brutal, Poston said, and that's essentially what this situation is about.

"It's nice to live up here where it's more rural and everybody has more room," Poston said. "But we have a responsibility to our neighbors and a responsibility to the law, and people need to abide by that."

Attempts to contact to neighbors of the Devanes were unsuccessful.

Contact Andrew Wilkins at or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @tweetatwilkins.