On July 12, 2023

Judge orders Slate Ridge owner Daniel Banyai to be arrested

 

Banyai owes fines totaling $100,600 plus $200/day until property is compliant

By Emma Cotton/VTDigger

A Vermont judge has ordered the arrest of Daniel Banyai, the owner of the paramilitary training facility Slate Ridge in West Pawlet. 

In a decision issued Thursday, July 6, Judge Thomas Durkin of the Environmental Division of the Vermont Superior Court found that Banyai is in contempt of a March 2021 court order that required him to remove unpermitted buildings on his property. 

Slate Ridge, the controversial paramilitary training range that Banyai operated on his property and posted about publicly on social media for years, has captured local and national media attention. Banyai invited local militia groups to train at Slate Ridge and allegedly harassed and threatened neighbors and local government officials.

“By the authority of the state of Vermont, any sheriff or constable in this state is directed to arrest Daniel Banyai, and remit him to the custody of the Commissioner of Corrections, to be thereafter confined until he or the Town causes the subject property to be brought into compliance with the March 5, 2021” order, Durkin wrote.

Banyai must be served within 60 days of issuance, according to the decision. 

He also owes fines totaling $100,600, plus an additional $200 per day starting from June 2, 2023, until he brings the property into compliance with court orders.

Thursday’s court order appoints the town of Pawlet to “bring the Property into compliance with the Court’s outstanding orders in this matter, with the Town entitled to reimbursement of its associated costs by Mr. Banyai.”

Durkin stipulated that Banyai can still bring the property into compliance before his arrest, and that he will be released when the property is in compliance with outstanding court orders. 

The warrant is now in the hands of the Rutland County Sheriff’s Department, which can carry out the arrest. Rutland Sheriff David Fox was not immediately available to comment on the case on Thursday afternoon.

“The Vermont State Police is aware of the arrest warrant, and, as with all such matters, we stand ready to assist the Rutland County Sheriff’s Department as needed,” Adam Silverman, a spokesperson for the Vermont State Police, said in an email on Thursday.

In a public Facebook post on his personal profile, Banyai wrote about the decision, calling the situation a “911 Emergency.”

“Because I didn’t ‘Demolish’ the permitted building ‘school’ I am going to jail,” he wrote. “Please stand with me. This needs to be protested civilly.” 

“Stand with me; our civil constitutional rights and freedoms,” he continued. “I will go to jail for all the violations to our constitutional rights.”

Asked in a voicemail whether Banyai would go willingly with authorities, Robert Kaplan, Banyai’s attorney, responded by email.  “We are reviewing the Court’s decisions today and evaluating the appropriate next steps,” he wrote.

Merrill Bent, an attorney for the town of Pawlet, declined to comment on the judge’s order. 

Months before Durkin ordered Banyai’s arrest on Thursday, he warned Banyai that if he didn’t come into compliance with the court order, he would face jail time. 

Durkin ruled in February that Banyai had violated court orders from March 2021 that required him to deconstruct unpermitted structures, some of which were part of the paramilitary facility. 

In that decision, Durkin wrote that Banyai “has demonstrated a willfulness, perhaps even an enthusiasm, for disregarding the Town’s Bylaws, this Court’s Orders, and the authority of the Judiciary.” 

At the time, Durkin issued a compliance schedule for Banyai. It required him to complete different aspects of his court order — removing unpermitted buildings and destroying berms that made up gun ranges — by certain dates. 

Banyai would accrue daily fines until the work was complete, the order stated, but if he had completed the work by the scheduled time, the fines would have been forgiven.

When town officials showed up to his property on June 1 for a court-ordered site visit to check if he had complied with the schedule, Banyai was not on the property. His gate was closed with a sign that read, “Warning no trespassing. Written permission needed to enter. Admission with state or federal ID only. Trespass here, die here, take the chance!”

That’s when Bent, the attorney for the town, asked the court to order Banyai’s arrest. 

While Banyai’s attorney opposed that motion, he “presented no evidence to support justifying or excusing his failure to permit the site inspection,” Durkin wrote in his decision this past Thursday, July 6.

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