- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
On Feb. 21, the man who’s housed local homeless residents despite code crackdowns on his ranch woke up, got dressed, and went to the county jail hoping to serve the 88 days he has left on a 90-day jail sentence. Apparently, he forgot to make an appointment.
“They told me I would have to have an invitation to jail,” De Vaul told New Times. “It’s a private party; you can’t just show up.”
Sheriff Ian Parkinson even came out to speak with the infamous local rancher, telling De Vaul the jail couldn’t take him without a court order.
De Vaul assumed he’d get in because on Feb. 18, San Luis Obispo County Superior Court judges Martin Tangeman, Barry LaBarbera, and Ginger Garrett denied his appeal of two misdemeanor health and safety code convictions. Laying the grounds that De Vaul was improperly housing people at his Sunny Acres ranch—a working farm and living facility for substance abusers and mentally ill who would otherwise be homeless—a jury convicted De Vaul of two criminal charges in late 2009.
De Vaul’s legal team—Neil Tardiff and Jeffrey Stulberg—appealed on the grounds that Judge John Trice banned a “necessity defense” and about a dozen witnesses who would have said the various code violations at Sunny Acres are outweighed by the good done for residents. De Vaul’s attorneys further argued there was jury misconduct and one juror was in fact “bullied” into her decision by Trice and other jurors.
The appellate judges, however, decided the necessity defense was “properly denied” and there was no misconduct.
“One only needs to look to the ‘Not Guilty’ verdicts on seven of the nine counts against appellant to recognize that a fair trial was conducted and the jury process was intact,” read the decision.
This leaves two options for De Vaul: Go to jail or appeal again. For now, he’s not sure what the best option is. He told New Times he would speak with his attorneys and wait for a court order before popping in at the jail again. But he might still appeal to the district court in Los Angeles, which could at least buy some more time—not that he seems to mind serving a sentence.
“It saddens me because whichever of these two directions I take, it doesn’t do a damn thing of solving the problem of the people that I’m taking care of,” he said.
On the civil side, De Vaul is appealing another decision that would likely evict many of the Sunny Acres residents if he loses. That appeal has yet to go to court.
He’s also in the midst of a permitting process to build a 14-bed housing facility, but said he was told he can’t get a final permit from the county until he vacates all the illegal structures, including structures where many residents sleep, and the dairy barn where meals are served.