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.”