Stealing Sam’s Land

For many years four parcels of land drew water from springs on Sam Prather's Indian Creek Road property. The water was piped into a tank where it was distributed to Lynn Archambault's one acre where it was her only source of water; a two acre property that was owned for many, many years by the Edwards family who also had a good well; and to the Hulbert family who supplemented their murky well with Sam’s spring water. Sam's prize-winning sheep drank directly from a stream near the springs.

For Sam that's the way it had been for his father and that's the way it had been for the many years he worked the sheep on the land. He didn't question it, that's the way it was.

Then the Edwards place sold to a San Jose pot grower named Brian Wade Padilla and his wife, who proceeded to install an unpermitted concrete retaining wall, build a class K 2600 square-foot "storage/ag" building with an attached greenhouse, where he grew his commercial crop that violated setback requirements to Prather's property line.

The disruptive Valley newcomer from San Jose soon found himself in a dispute with Lynn Archambault, a highly regarded, long-time Valley musician and teacher. Ms. Archambault lost the dispute, causing her to spend many thousands of dollars to dig her own well. The old arrangement that had served her and her neighbors for all the years was over for her.

Padilla, sometimes with five or six of his cohorts, also routinely trespassed on Prather’s land, helping themselves to trees cut for firewood.

Things grumbled along for awhile and then came the drought, and in 2013, with the two remaining parties on the old gravity flow, spring-fed water system taking water for marijuana there was no water left for Sam's sheep.

Sam complained to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Local Warden Mark White who, when seeing that the small stream that fed into Indian Creek was dry where it passed under Indian Creek Road, went with Sam up the hill and then followed a two-inch black plastic pipe.

In his subsequent official report, Warden White stated that he found that the pipe branched twice to spring boxes that looked recently installed and terminated in a "large pool" taking essentially all of the water flowing to that point.

Warden White estimated the diverted water to be about five gallons per minute which, given the prevailing drought, was an enviable amount of water. But it was achieved at the expense of Sam's thirsty sheep.

Warden White returned to the diversion a few days later with Fish and Wildlife Environmental Scientist Wes Stokes. White and Stokes photographed what was described as "25 large marijuana plants" growing on the Padilla property.

Prather's water went to water Padilla's pot. (Photo by Fish & Wildlife Warden Mark White.)

 

Warden White's report summarized the situation:

"Prather asked me if he could remove the water diversion debris that was on his property. I advised Prather that it was his property and it was an illigal diversion, so if he would like to remove it he could. He asked for assistance in restoring the tributary back to original form, so on 11/14/2013 I met with Prather on his property at 17501 Indian Creek Road to assist him with restoring the water back to the tributary. Upon arriving at the large pool of water at the main point of diversion, it was apparent someone had recently built a dam. The dam had been built out of dirt, rock and wood debris, with the two inch diameter waterline going through the dam. The upstream side of the dam contained a large pool of water, but the downstream side of the dam was essentially completely dried up streambed. Prather removed the plastic waterline that was in the bed of the creek …I attempted to open the dam … but without appropriate tools I was somewhat unsuccessful."

Padilla's Illegal Dam, looking upstream. (Photo by Fish & Wildlife Warden Mark White.)

 

Warden White talked with Brian Padilla. Padilla told of an old easement he had for water from Prather's property. Padilla also admitted that he "has put that dam in every year in the fall when the creek gets lower."

From White's report: "I researched the water right deeded to Padilla and had several maps made by GPS specialist that show that Padilla's main point of diversion was outside of the easement in his water right's deed."

Warden White's detailed eight page report recomended that Brian Wade Padilla be charged by the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office for the following Fish and Game code sections violations:

Sec. 1602 Unlawful to divert/obstruct natural flow. Sec. 5650 Unlawful to deposit deleterious substance (sediment). Sec. 5652 Unlawful to deposit/permit to pass into stream … any plastic litter and rubbish material. Sec 5901 Unlawful to construct a dam. Sec. 5937 Owner of Dam shall allow sufficient water to pass.

Because there was an old (1910) easement for water the issue was muddied. Padilla did have rights to some water and a pipe to get it to his property; Yet by taking all of the water from a point "outside of the easement," damming the stream to do so and leaving quite a mess, Padilla had violated the law and certainly the spirit of the ancient agreement among neighbors to share the water. Padilla had rights perhaps to the side springs, but not all of the water in the main stream.

Muddled as it may have seemed, an equitable water sharing arrangement might easily have been arranged with Sam perhaps replacing that portion of the pipe that was within the Padilla easement and with Padilla, cleaning up the mess he’d made and limiting his water-taking to the two springs. Small fines might be imposed on Padilla for his illegal diversion and his construction of a haphazard and stream-damaging dam.

What happened was that greed and belligerance set in, lawyers got involved and apparent carelessness, incompetence or corruption determined an outcome far beyond reason and quite possibly bordering on elder abuse. The following is a brief rundown of how this played out.

Fish and Wildlife presented their findings to the DA for prosecution; Deputy DA Tim Stoen filed a five-count charge sheet against Padilla — four Fish & Wildlife violations and a trespass count.

Padilla hired Willits attorney Chris Neary and counter-sued both Fish and Wildlife and Sam Prather. It should be emphasized that Sam’s dismantling of Padilla’s diversion occurred with both Fish and Wildlife’s sanction and the physical presence and assistance of Fish and Wildlife’s Warden White. In other words, Sam, standing on his own property, had the full approval of state government. DA David Eyster, claiming "insufficiant evidence,” dropped the charges against Padilla. It must be noted that Padilla's attorney Chris Neary was Eyster's campaign manager.

Padilla subsequently dropped the suit against Fish and Wildlife but continued the suit against Sam for violating his water easement rights.

With the trial set to go, Sam and his sister, who was also named because she was also on the family property deed referenced by the 1910 water easement, were dismayed that they would both have to attend a "month long" trial.

Sam is a rancher. He works alone, and his scattered sheep need daily attention. He doesn’t have the time to sit around in court at the convenience of judges and lawyers.

Sam's attorney worked out a "Settlement Agreement and Release" with Padilla which gave Padilla $50,001 in cash and a Boundary Line Adjustment that took from Sam and gave to Padilla that land "depicted in Exhibit B by yellow highlighting." This was depicted on a county provided aerial map that was scale-wise inaccurate and Sam was told by the lawyers that the property amounted to about three acres.

Here it would be appropriate to describe a bit about Sam. At over 70 he does have memory and comprehension issues that become apparent to anyone with close dealings to him. He is a wizard when it comes to raising and breeding sheep but, like many of us, he is slow to fully comprehend maps and documents and legal matters. And like most of us Sam leaves the legal stuff up to those he thinks are looking out for his interests, in this case his lawyer, Brian Carter of Ukiah.

When Carter laid the agreement down in front of Sam, he said Sam's Grange insurance would pay the $50,000 and the land involved was only 3 acres. Sam reluctantly signed, later explaining, "He told me this was the deal and that I should sign." Sam felt he had no choice.

The signed agreement did not designate the acreage to be conveyed by Prather to Padilla but rather "… that portion …. depicted in Exhibit B by yellow highlighting …".

Simply looking at Exhibit B it appeared very much like 3 acres and that's what Sam was told it was. But when the property was finally surveyed it turned out to be 7.6 acres. That 7.6 acres was a big chunk of his best lower pasture.

Sam challenged the "Agreement" in court claiming there was no meeting of minds over the acreage amount but lost.

What is missing here is what went on during the time back in 2013 that the "Agreement" was signed and now.

Padilla's lawyer, Chris Neary, conveniently discovered that the 2-acre Padilla property had, in 1904-1905, been two, 1 acre parcels. Neary got Certificates of Compliance to divide the 2 acre Padilla place back into two, one-acre parcels. This has allowed Padilla to divide Sam’s 7.6 acres in half, meaning that Padilla gets two 4.8 acre parcels. Without the magic land split Padilla would have had one 9.6 acre indivisible piece of land.

Upshot: Brian Padilla breaks the law; he installs an illegal creek diversion, Fish and Wildlife charge him with four violations. He takes all of the water for Sam's sheep and gets a half million dollars worth of property and $50,000 cash.

Sam's lawyer, Brian Carter, manages to convert a slam dunk win for Sam based on the very clear Fish and Wildlife report and the old sheep rancher gets a court-sanctioned mugging.

POSTSCRIPT:

1) Warden White's report and arrest recommendation: WardenWhiteReportNov1413

2) Brian Padilla, owner of Brian's Welding in San Jose, bends metal into pleasing designs:

Brian Padilla, owner of Brian’sWelding in San Jose, bends metal into pleasing designs

 

15 Responses to "Stealing Sam’s Land"

  1. William Valley   July 19, 2017 at 4:41 pm

    Interesting read. This seems wrong in so many ways. Of course there are two sides to a story but based on the wardens report you would not expect it to turn out the way it did. I feel sorry for the sheep rancher. Perhaps Karma will play a role in this some day.

    Reply
  2. John Burkhart   July 19, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    If you know so much about it David Severn maybe you could have been at the courthouse for the last 10 years while Brian Padilla fought to save water that was purchased and recorded through the county on the Edwards Estate. It goes a lot further back than the picture you are painting. So before you give your biased opinion, get the facts straight.
    Since when has law enforcement always been right in Mendocino County !

    The sheep rancher obviously was at fault because the courts through a lengthy process determined Sam Prather thought he was above the law.

    Reply
    • Bruce Anderson   July 20, 2017 at 9:59 am

      Please. The 8-page Fish and Wildlife report, with photographs, was legally bullet-proof in anticipation of litigation. But the DA tossed it. Why? Who knows, but Padilla should have been prosecuted. Sam was screwed every which way, and his legal representation was a bad joke.

      Reply
      • John Burkhart   July 20, 2017 at 11:13 am

        Bruce, they tossed it because Warden White had no right to go up there and destroy private property that belonged to the Edwards Estate and they knew it.

        Reply
        • Bruce Anderson   July 20, 2017 at 11:39 am

          A Fish and Wildlife agent has no right to check diversion of a fish stream? The diversion, not so incidentally, was ABOVE the deeded access which, you may know, was not in dispute until Mr. Padilla bought the Edwards place and set up his water-hungry pot-grow.

          Reply
    • David Severn   July 21, 2017 at 3:25 pm

      John Burkhart,
      10 years ago Padilla was in court fighting to take Lynn Archambeau’s decades long prescriptive water rights away from her, which he did. Quite simply this previous case of newcomer bullying mentioned in my article was an early example of an exploitive invasion by often rich and greedy marijuana entrepeneurs that we in Anderson Valley now face and must deal with.

      And, no, law enforcement anywhere is not always right, but in the case at hand Fish and Wildlife did a very thorough investigation involving at least three agents.

      Relative to your second comment to Bruce, every step of the way was on Sam Prather land and the dam encroachment was not even within the easement zone therefore verifiably illegal on two levels.

      Reply
  3. Anna Fender   July 20, 2017 at 7:43 am

    So what are you saying, the justice system is crooked? Did this Brian guy pay off the local government? Looks to me from the article Sam has already been to court a couple times and has lost every time along the way. Are you saying that Sams very own lawyer screwed him? This article reeks of bitterness over a lawsuit lost. There’s two sides to every story and this is obviously Sams side. -Anna

    Reply
    • Bruce Anderson   July 20, 2017 at 10:02 am

      It’s Sam’s side because the other side had no case, outcome notwithstanding. Yes, Sam’s very own lawyer screwed him, via gross incompetence, I’d say

      Reply
    • David Severn   July 21, 2017 at 3:21 pm

      Anna,
      To you I will concede one point and that was the edit at the end of my piece that said “… the old sheep rancher gets a court-sanctioned mugging.” The story as turned in actually ended “….. and Sam gets screwed.” Certainly I do not feel justice was served in this case but I am not trying to say the justice system itself is crooked.

      I believe that even without Fish and Wildlife’s damning report if Sam had not been coerced into signing the “Settle Agreement and Release” he would not have been found by judge or jury culpable for a half a million dollars in damages.
      Given the Fish and Wildlife very thorough report it becomes quite evident that Padilla is the one that owes restitution and not Sam.

      Yes, I do feel that Sam’s lawyer, Brian Carter, let him down and did not protect Sam from abuse as a lawyer is supposed to do. I am also puzzled by DA Eyster’s decision to not follow through with the incriminating evidense against Padilla.

      Obviously I present Sam’s side – who do you represent?

      Reply
  4. Norm Clow   July 20, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    Anybody who thinks Sam Prather feels he is above the law clearly does not know the same Sam Prather the rest of us have known forever.

    Reply
  5. Marshall Newman   July 21, 2017 at 10:18 am

    Wrong at so many levels. Frightening too.

    Reply
  6. Christopher Neary, attorney for Brian Padilla   July 21, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    The criminal case was dismissed because the most serious charge was trespass and Mr. Padilla had a valid easement to be on the land. Mr. Padilla and Sam Prather were co-defendants in the Archimbault case in which it was claimed by the Plaintiff that they had taken the water right away from Mr. Padilla and from Sam Prather by way of prescription. The Plaintiff could not prove the elements of the prescription and Mr. Padilla and Sam prevailed.

    Sam did not tell the Fish and Game officer about the easement, but implied by implication that Sam did not know why Mr. Padilla would be taking water from his land when Sam knew that Mr. Padilla and his predecessors had been taking water pursuant to the easement for over 100 years and Sam had even testified in the earlier case in support of Mr. Padilla. When it was learned that Sam had not told the Fish and Wildlife officer about the easement–which he was shown to have actual knowledge of the Department of Fish and Wildlife felt that it had been manipulated by Sam. Perhaps Sam has an explanation but he never provided it. Instead he settled the lawsuit.
    Keep in mind,also, that Sam was provided a defense by his insurance company from a very aggressive law firm in Redding which assigned three lawyers to the case and took us up to the day before the trial before they discussed settlement in any meaningfully way. If they thought they had such a great case, they should have proceeded to trial. We were ready. I negotiated the settlement with them, not Brian Carter.
    I might also point out that Mr. Padilla agreed to the settlement after spending tens of thousands of dollars in expenses and he agreed to a settlement which avoided Sam having to face a jury for a still explained act–severing the water line for which Sam knew that Mr. Padilla had an easement. Sam was exposed to potential for punitive damages especially since his interaction with Fish and Wildlife appeared to be an effort to manipulate a wrongful criminal prosecution of Mr. Padilla. Sam had substantial exposure to punitive damages unless he came up with an explanation, which was completely missing from the story.
    Unfortunately, the author of the story got involved in the whole matter in the past few months, and it appeared that he got so invested in his misunderstanding of the true situation that he did not well serve Sam.

    Reply
  7. Bruce Anderson   July 21, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    Prior to Padilla, the water from Sam’s property was shared equitably and without rancor by four parties. Post Padilla, lawsuits and bad feeling commenced. The rest of what you say here is obfuscation. The chronology of events makes clear what happened, and what happened was a guy breezes in from San Jose to grow pot and commences to screw Sam, Ms. Archambault, and the Hulberts out of their fair share of water to which all parties, including the new guy, Padilla, had historical access. Sam thought he was signing off on a deal to end the court appearances he was funding, a deal that gave Padilla three acres he was not legally or logically entitled to, but on the basis of a half-assed, unintelligible aerial photo Sam gave up 7 acres, since split in two by Padilla, neatly enhancing Padilla’s holdings considerably. If this case had gone to a jury, Sam would have won going away. As your pal, Eyster, will tell you, Tim Stoen of the DA’s office was ready to prosecute Padilla but, well, DA Eyster decided not to proceed. Fish and Wildlife’s agent White’s case was irrefutable, as a jury would have agreed. I’m surprised you dare defend what amounts to the robbery of an honorable resident of the Anderson Valley. I hope your buddy the DA will explain why he called Stoen off the case. BTW, it was agent White who found that the dam/diversion was on Sam’s property, not Sam.

    Reply
  8. John Burkhart   July 27, 2017 at 10:53 pm

    Bruce, you know not what you speak.
    30 years ago Brian living on the coast of Mendocino sitting around the fire with his family laughing and reading the AVA, reputable and newsworthy. Time to hang it up, fresh young successful people are what the valley needs now.

    Fish Wrap

    Reply
    • Marshall Newman   March 11, 2018 at 11:01 am

      “Those who think someone is too old or not handsome enough lack foresight.” Based on this example of your writing, you should not criticize. I see nothing wrong with Bruce’s writing, narrative or conclusions here.

      Reply

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