On December 6, 2023

After Slate Ridge inspection, judge reissues arrest warrant for Daniel Banyai

File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Daniel Banyai, owner of Slate Ridge, a gun range used for paramilitary weapons training in West Pawlet, appeared for a contempt hearing in Environmental Court in Rutland.

 

 

A previous arrest warrant was never executed

By Ethan Weinstein/VTDigger

Following an official inspection of Slate Ridge late last week, a judge determined that Daniel Banyai had not brought his property into compliance, reissuing a warrant for his arrest. 

“The threat of incarceration is the only remaining tool at the Court’s disposal to encourage compliance,” Thomas Durkin, a Vermont Superior Court environmental division judge overseeing the case, wrote in a court filing on Monday, Dec. 4. 

Durkin directed his decision to the Rutland County Sheriff’s Department and Vermont State Police, giving them explicit permission to enter Banyai’s property to arrest him. The judge also ordered Banyai to turn himself in to the Vermont Department of Corrections by Dec. 22.

Banyai’s property, a gun range used for paramilitary weapons training, terrified its West Pawlet neighbors, who said they heard explosions and confronted heavily armed men during the site’s operation.

Last week’s site visit was the latest development in a multiyear saga in which the town of Pawlet has asked the state environmental court to require Banyai to remove buildings from his property.

This summer, Judge Durkin declared Banyai in contempt of a March 2021 court order to dismantle unpermitted structures from Slate Ridge. He issued an arrest warrant for Banyai, and ordered him to pay more than $100,000 in fines. 

Banyai later contended that he had complied with the court’s requirements, submitting photographs to the court, though he did not allow Pawlet officials to inspect his property at the time. Meanwhile, he appealed the case to the Vermont Supreme Court, and his arrest warrant expired without Vermont State Police or the Rutland County Sheriff’s Department executing it within the 60-day period that it remained active.

After last week’s site visit, Pawlet officials, submitting photographs as evidence, wrote in court filings that the property was not compliant with court orders. 

“Certain structures have been moved, repainted, and modified, presumably to give the appearance that they have been removed and replaced with a different structure,” Merrill Bent, Pawlet’s attorney, wrote in a memo last week. 

“The Town does not find credible that Defendant has dismantled or removed these structures and then erected near-identical structures on the Property,” Bent continued.

In his decision Monday, Durkin wrote that Pawlet’s ”documentation confirms” that Banyai has not complied with court orders and therefore remained in contempt. 

“The Court had also hoped to avoid directing that [Banyai] be Incarcerated,” Durkin wrote, “but has been convinced by [Banyai’s] continued obstinance.”

The new order filed by Durkin says that the warrant does not expire until the property is compliant, though it directs law enforcement to “take all necessary efforts” to act within 60 days. 

Emails directed to Banyai’s attorney, Robert Kaplan, were not immediately answered on Monday.

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