Daniel Banyai, the owner of Slate Ridge, a controversial “gunfighting” training facility in West Pawlet, has run out of time to comply with court orders demanding that he dismantle unpermitted structures on his property.
On Thursday, the Town of Pawlet filed a request with the court to impose more sanctions on Banyai, including heavy fines and possible jail time.
While Banyai has allowed town officials to enter his property and survey his land — as required by court order — he has not destroyed a number of unpermitted structures, as ordered by the Environmental Court and affirmed by the state Supreme Court.
For years, Slate Ridge has been the source of enormous tension in West Pawlet. Neighbors have reported that Banyai has repeatedly threatened and harassed them, and they’ve complained about hearing frequent gunfire and explosions. Banyai often published personal information, including names and home addresses, of community members and organizers who spoke out against Slate Ridge. Banyai has also hosted and trained members of local militia groups on his property.
In March 2021, following a court case that had lasted several years, a judge with the Environmental Division of the Vermont Superior Court ordered Banyai to shut down the facility. The order required him to pay the town $46,603 — $100 for each day after he was served a notice that he was violating town bylaws and failed to comply.
While Banyai has paid that fine, he has not complied with the demand that he hire a surveyor to assess the unpermitted structures on his property and destroy them, according to the town’s court filing.
The town is asking the court to find Banyai in contempt of court, order two $5,000 contempt fines, order that all unpermitted structures be immediately demolished, imprison Banyai until he takes those actions, impose fines of $200 per day backdated to March 2021, when the court made its first order, and pay the town’s attorney fees.
Banyai appealed the court’s original order and lost last January, when the Vermont Supreme Court denied his appeal. After the Supreme Court decision, Banyai submitted an incomplete site plan, according to Merrill Bent, the attorney for the town of Pawlet.
In April, the court ordered Banyai to submit a complete plan that disclosed all of the structures on his property, to be completed within 90 days, and allow town officials onto his property for the purpose of surveying the existing structures. If he didn’t comply, the presiding judge, Thomas Durkin with the state’s Environmental Court, threatened to “immediately consider a request made by the town of Pawlet to have you jailed until you do comply,” Durkin told Banyai at a virtual hearing at the time.
That 90-day clock ran out on Monday, Bent said, and Banyai still hadn’t submitted the necessary plan.
However, Banyai has allowed town officials to enter his property and survey his land. On May 10, members of the Rutland County Sheriff's Department and several town officials walked Banyai’s property on foot, documenting some existing structures.
Banyai denied town officials the ability to use ATVs to view his 31-acre property, according to court records. Still, the officials were able to document 17 unpermitted structures, which ran the gamut from a barn to “overseas shipping containers” to large fuel storage tanks to two completed shooting ranges to miscellaneous fencing.
“The Town respectfully requests that the Court provide Defendant with no further opportunities to defy its orders, and to impose such sanctions as necessary to ensure immediate compliance, without further delay,” the town’s request states.
Banyai gave a deposition by phone last spring, brought about by a court-approved discovery order, in which he answered a line of interrogation from the town.
“Defendant’s answers to the Town’s questions during the deposition were largely comprised of inappropriate responses which were alternately non-responsive, argumentative, circular, or answering a question with a question demanding a definition of commonly used English words or phrases,” the town’s request to the court states.
Of “particular relevance,” the request states, was Banyai’s refusal to answer questions about the source of his funds to pay the fine to the town, given that Banyai has denied having a source of income. Banyai has continued construction on the property, the request noted.
Robert Kaplan, Banyai’s current attorney, did not respond to a request for comment.
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