Borrego Springs In January 2005, Alan Inn bought 816 acres in Ocotillo Wells, smitten with the desert’s rugged beauty. A general contractor with experience ranging from residential remodeling to government projects, Inn planned to build a “wellness center” and resort.
Ocotillo Wells has been an off-roaders’ sandbox for many years. The Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area, 80,000 acres of washes and hills, is located just north of Inn’s land, across Highway 78. Inn knew that off-roaders came onto his property, even camping in large numbers on the 70-acre level bit along the highway, but he did not mind.
That autumn, spending weekends at the site, Inn began to develop his land. He put up fence on the western property line. He drilled a well. He bought a 10,000-gallon water tank, a submersible pump, and a small generator. By the end of the year he had a trailer on the land and a bulldozer, backhoe, motor grader, more water tanks, and a truck.
But as the days grew cooler and more off-roaders arrived to spend their weekends in the desert, Inn found that he was being vandalized. Thieves unplugged his well lines and stole his generator, compressor, pumps, and power washer. Inn reported these problems to the local sheriff’s office, and Deputy William Painter came out to take a report.
Inn decided that off-roaders were no longer welcome on his property. He put up more than 50 No Trespassing signs and a dozen Off-Road Activity Prohibited signs given to him by the deputy, attaching them to fence where he could or to posts placed where established trails came onto his land. Inn dug ditches to delineate his property in some areas that were not yet fenced.
More vandalism occurred in early 2006. Fire extinguishers taken from the motor grader were discharged into it. A large rock was thrown through the trailer window. The western fence line was cut in a dozen places. In two encounters with bikers in the spring, Inn learned that the vandalism wasn’t just malicious mischief but an effort to stop him from developing his land.
Inn bought five more 10,000-gallon water tanks. In May, vandals poured gasoline on them, burning two; they shot the other tanks full of bullet holes. This time Deputy Carlos Medina came out.
Inn, who was 60 at this time, started life in a small town in Turkey, immigrating to the United States at 23 to attend college in New Jersey. He became a U.S. citizen when he was 30. He still speaks with a slight accent.
The conversation Inn had on May 13, 2006, with Deputy Medina, as Inn tried to obtain answers on how to protect his property, would lead, Inn believes, directly to the events at the end of the year, when Inn would be arrested for assault. Deputy Medina’s testimony in court, two years later, would not support Inn’s version of the day.
Inn says he asked the deputy how to stop the vandalism, and Deputy Medina replied, “Should I be watching after your property?” The sheriff’s office in Borrego Springs has only two deputies on patrol at any time to watch over 700 square miles.
Inn says he asked if he could become a “volunteer deputy and be given a badge so that I could arrest vandals if I caught them.” He says that Deputy Medina replied, “That’s not going to happen.”
Then, Inn says, the deputy suggested he could make a citizen’s arrest.
“How could I accomplish that?” Inn says he asked. “Can I shoot their tires flat so they don’t get away?”
“What if you shot them?” Inn says Medina replied.
Today Inn says, “I said I would never do that; taking life belongs to God. I asked him again if I could shoot their tires flat. He told me he could not give me advice and that I should do what I needed to do.”
More trouble occurred on October 15. As Inn installed fence, he heard motorcycles and went to investigate. He found eight bikers. Leaning out the window of his truck, Inn motioned to them to stop, told them they were on private property, and said he was trying to keep everybody out because of the vandalism.
Two of the bikers, Jaime Chausee and Joe Albertelli, testified at Inn’s trial that they saw no signs and did not know they were on private land.
“One of them asked me if I was the one who was digging those ditches,” Inn says. Two bikers in the group had crashed into a ditch. They apparently considered the ditches a booby trap. “I told him yes, that was the property line. And until I catch up with the fencing, I am digging the ditches to discourage intruders.”
Chausee then angrily said, “I’ll bury you in those ditches! With your own shovel!”
Inn jumped out of his truck, grabbing a pistol he had resting on the front seat. He demanded that Chausee remove his helmet, so he could see who was threatening him. He repeated this demand several times, finally smacking the side of Chausee’s helmet with his free hand. At this point, all the bikers took off their helmets. Albertelli later testified that he could see bullets in the chambers of the revolver that Inn held, although Inn swears the gun was not loaded.
“Eventually I told them to leave and do not ever return,” Inn says. He hoped the bikers would spread the word that the property was private. Instead they reported Inn to the sheriff.
“Sheriff Medina came and questioned me about the incident,” Inn says. “I told him what happened, and he told me that the off-roaders had told him the same thing and he told them, ‘You threatened the guy on his own property. What did you expect him to do?’ I thanked him for standing up for me.”
According to Inn, “When I told [the deputy] my gun was not loaded, with shock in his voice he asked me, ‘What if they pulled a gun on you and shot you?’ I said, ‘How would they know it was not loaded?’ He repeated the question, ‘What if they pulled a gun on you and shot you?’ And he advised me not to point an empty gun at people. I thought about it and started to load my gun from that point on.”
During the Halloween weekend, more fence line was cut, and as the big New Year’s weekend approached, Inn used earthmoving equipment to build tall earthen berms in certain spots on the perimeter of his property. He placed telephone poles along the tops and the edges of the berms. Off-roaders often follow sandy washes for long distances. One wash that led onto Inn’s property seemed to be the route vandals and thieves were taking. Inn built a berm in the wash to block this route. He nailed a No Trespassing sign onto the post by the trail.
Inn decided to maintain a watch during the weekend from a high spot roughly in the center of his land.
“With the binoculars I observed all directions where I could see,” Inn says. “Before I left I saw a dust cloud generated by off-roaders riding up to the location of the berm and turning back. I was happy to see that.”
On Friday morning, December 29, Inn says he watched the berm for over half an hour. “In that period of time I saw dust clouds approaching the berm and turning back several times.” Inn left to run errands. “When I returned late in the afternoon, right before sunset, I went up to the lot again to see what kind of activity was going on. Again I observed dust clouds arriving and turning back at the location of the berm. Therefore, my berm was still intact by sunset on Friday the 29th. I did not hear any riders that night anywhere on my site.”
The next day, December 30, Inn surveyed his property at about 9:00 a.m. “It was quiet everywhere except at the location of the berm. There I saw some activity that was creating low-density dust clouds. I watched the area maybe 15 or 20 minutes. Eventually I saw a motorbiker pop up from the wash onto my side of the property. I realized at that moment they had just breached the berm again.
“I got into my truck,” Inn says, “and tried to get to the location as fast as I could. As I was riding down I was determined to make a citizen’s arrest this time if I could.”
Inn parked his truck, grabbed his loaded .357 revolver, and ran toward a biker who was trying desperately to kick-start his stalled motorcycle. Inn could see two other bikers about 280 feet away, waiting for their stranded friend.
“I ran first down into the wash and then up to his location on the south of the wash and told him to stop and that I was placing him under arrest for trespassing. He did not obey and kept on pumping his pedal to start his bike. Pointing the gun at him, I repeated several more times. He did not stop but said that he was just trying to get back up the hill. Which was a lie.
“I glanced at the berm about 110 feet to my northeast and saw only the heavy end of the post sticking up at the north end of the berm. The rest of the post was not visible.” Someone had pushed over the telephone pole. “I told him he was a liar and that they had just breached my berm again after my numerous times of repair. I don’t think he thought I was serious, because he kept on pumping the pedal to start the bike.”
Inn says the man on the bike, Matt Walker, continued trying to kick-start his bike despite Inn’s repeated requests to submit to a citizen’s arrest.
“Finally I reached down to the front of the front tire and took a shot at the tire. I wanted to make sure I did not hit the rim” to avoid a ricochet. “Doing so, I missed the tire. I tried again to give him a flat tire and missed again. This time he stopped and got off the bike but was still holding on to it. I told him to let the bike down. He did and immediately removed his helmet. When he removed his helmet, I realized he was exhausted. I was afraid he was going to have a heart attack.
“I told him to take it easy and called his friends to come down and help their friend. I told them he might be having a heart attack. One of the men told me to put my gun away before they came down. I immediately tucked the gun away under my belt and told them again to come down. One of them did come down.”
Matt Walker got back on the bike, and his younger brother Justin came down to see if his brother was okay. Before the bikers left, they told Inn that they were going to have him arrested.
“I did not think it was a serious thing to discharge a weapon trying to shoot a tire,” Inn says, “so I repaired the berm again and was digging some ditches when Sheriff Painter arrived.”
The three bikers returned with the deputy. The first thing Deputy Painter did was confiscate Inn’s revolver.
Then “he turned to them who were sitting on top of my post that I had just placed back on the berm and asked them if they [wanted to press] charges. One of them said, ‘Absolutely.’ Sheriff turned to me and said that he was placing me under arrest. I told him he must be joking. He said he was not.”
Inn was charged with three counts of assault: assault with a firearm against Matt Walker, assault with a firearm against Justin Walker, and willfully maliciously discharging a firearm at an occupied motor vehicle.
The trial was held last month in the superior court in Vista. The three bikers — Mike Catherine and brothers Matt and Justin Walker — described Alan Inn as a crazy man waving a gun at them and threatening to kill them.
The bikers said they were unaware they had crossed onto private property, and they denied destroying any property or barrier. They said the berm was only about 4 feet high, not the 14-foot tower that Inn showed later in court, using photos he took of his property. The bikers said there was no large pole on top of the berm. They said they didn’t see any No Trespassing signs and that Inn never said anything about making a citizen’s arrest.
The three bikers said they had been coming out to this area off-roading for at least seven years — but did not know that they had crossed from public land to private property when they saw the berm.
All parties — Matt and Justin Walker, Mike Catherine, and Alan Inn — testified that Justin asked his brother, “Are you hit? Are you hit?” Justin, from his perspective a distance away, said he thought Inn was aiming the gun at his brother’s person. Apparently both bullets went into the desert earth, striking neither man nor motorcycle. Both brothers did say that Inn told them to leave — because he was afraid Matt would have a heart attack on his property and sue him.
Inn testified that he felt threatened by the man who refused to get off the motorcycle, saying he could “get kicked into a ditch” by the much larger and younger man on the bike. Inn described his efforts to fence his property. At first he used a simple double strand of barbless wire, but that was swiftly cut everywhere. He moved to wire mesh fencing, which took more effort to defeat. When he progressed to 3/8-inch steel cable on telephone posts every 25 feet, he felt successful. He put up No Trespassing signs about every 150 feet — these were easily torn off but also easily replaced. Inn’s attorney brought in witnesses to confirm this fencing activity.
Deputy Medina never confirmed the conversation in which Inn asked to become a deputy. This important exchange, in which Inn claims he asked the deputy for instruction on how to make a citizen’s arrest, was excluded by the court. The prosecutor successfully made in limine motions to keep this evidence away from the hearing of the jury.
After a lunch break, Inn was cross-examined by deputy district attorney Brenda Daly. The prosecutor offered Inn court’s exhibit number ten, the revolver. He seemed eager to demonstrate the confrontation that happened December 30, 2006.
The large handgun was disabled with a plastic tie threaded through it, and there was a big orange evidence tag, which fluttered awkwardly. Inn took firm grip of the handgun and pointed it toward the prosecutor. There was a tremor through the courtroom — almost every person in the room shifted in his seat at the same time.
On June 17, in closing arguments, Daly reviewed the case. “This case is about the defendant who went crazy and into a violent rage with a gun,” said Daly. She told the jury the self-defense argument was an “excuse.”
“The self-defense claim is something new, that was entered at trial. The right to self-defense may not be contrived. A person does not have the right to self-defense if he provokes a fight with the intent to create an excuse of self-defense.
“The reason we are here is this claim of self-defense,” she said. “His testimony was a bunch of lies.”
Daly described the land. “Everybody rides it. No signs. These are working people obeying the laws,” she said, repeating the testimony of the bikers. “It is a wide-open area. That’s what they have always ridden, and there is nothing marking it.
“He bought a property where everyone rides their motorcycles.” The prosecutor went on, “The property was just dirt; nothing is posing a threat to the sand. He has completely overreacted. Because he goes into rages. Rage plus gun.”
Daly showed a PowerPoint screen that said, “RAGE + GUN = CRIMES.”
“Matt Walker thought a madman with a gun was going to kill him. [Defendant] was in a rage — he wasn’t thinking. This was a crazy man with a gun.”
Daly told the jury that the law does not allow use of deadly force for a misdemeanor arrest, such as trespass.
She told the jury that Inn was guilty of assault with a firearm because he had threatened the bikers. Daly said that by pointing the gun at the bikers and declaring, “I’m going to kill you,” Inn met the definition of assault, stated in California Penal Code, section 240: “An assault is an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.”
Daly took court’s exhibit number ten out of its box and waved it around during her arguments. The attorney showed the revolver to the jury several times.
In his closing arguments, Inn’s attorney, David Thompson, said that Matt Walker was “a mountain of a man” who would not respond to the landowner’s fair demand to “stop.” Thompson emphasized that a person acting in self-defense is allowed to “stand his ground.” Thompson pointed out that Inn’s two shots at the tire would never have been required if the trespasser had yielded to Inn’s lawful requests.
At 3:45 p.m., the jury returned with its verdict: Guilty on count one, felony assault with a firearm personally used by the defendant on Matt Walker. Inn was also found guilty of an alternate lesser charge of negligent discharge of a firearm.
He was found not guilty of assault on Justin Walker and not guilty of willful discharge of a firearm at an occupied motor vehicle.
Sentencing is scheduled for August 1.