City lets go of 85-year-old park volunteer — for following the rules!

Locked out: Leroy Harris, 85, gave his time as a volunteer at the Lt. Federico Narvaez Tot Lot in Ditmas Park for decades — but says the city snubbed him by letting him go and changing the locks.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

The city has fired an octogenarian park volunteer, bowing to demands of parents who claim that the senior follows Parks’ rules too strictly and yells obscenities at them and their small kids for minor infractions.

Leroy Harris, 85, a Jamaica immigrant, had been opening and closing the Lt. Narvaez Tot Lot near Cortelyou and Argyle roads since the early 1990s — but parents say the elderly caretaker had begun shouting R-rated words at them as they enjoyed the playground with their small children.

“He just kept yelling at mothers and their children, telling them they couldn’t be here and cursing,” said Eric Bryant, who claimed he saw Harris blow-up on two consecutive days at the tot lot last week. “I had to call the cops! Clearly this guy needed some help.”

Yet Harris, who says he began caring for the playground back when the tot lot was overrun with drunks and drug dealers instead of toddlers, claims that the park’s new visitors are as entitled as their spoiled children and rarely follow park rules.

“A lot of parents don’t read the signs when they come in here and want to do what they want to do,” said Harris, who claims that moms curse at him whenever he tries to close the park on time, ask their children not to stand on benches, or enforce any other rules.

Bryant claims that Harris is taking his volunteer job way too seriously.

“This guy had appointed himself the unofficial sheriff of the tot lot,” said Bryant. “People said he was a ‘volunteer.’ By volunteer, you mean ‘harasser?’ ”

The simmering problem boiled over last week after Bryant’s 911 call: angry parents and care-takers started an online petition to remove Harris from the tot lot. But it was the calls to 311 and Community Board 14 that did the trick — the 85-year-old was dismissed from duty within a few days.

“Recently, we have received complaints about Mr. Harris’s behavior from local constituents, elected officials, and the Community Board,” said a Parks Department spokeswoman, who said Harris’s main duties were opening and closing the playground. “We have since changed the locks on the gates.”

The city has invited Harris to next month’s Community Board 14 meeting to discuss the issue — but Harris says he is so angered by the city’s decision that he doesn’t plan on showing up.

“I don’t have any more interest — I don’t need this treatment from anybody,” said Harris. “I’ve been giving my time for all these years and I’m not even getting a thank you. Now they come and put a lock on the gate like I’m nobody! It hurts.”

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

More from Around New York