The Town of Pawlet won a preliminary injunction against Daniel Banyai in the Environmental Division of Superior Court and a neighbor got a protective order against him recently in Civil Court.
Judge Thomas Durkin issued the preliminary injunction against Banyai on Jan. 21 ordering him to not hold or allow any firearms training-related activities on his property at 541 Briar Hill Road, a property commonly referred to as Slate Ridge.
Pawlet’s town attorney Merrill E. Bent, of the Manchester firm Woolmington, Campbell, Bent & Stasny, asked for the preliminary injunction while the court considers the larger issues of requiring unpermitted structures on the property to be removed, the imposition of fines, legal fees, and a permanent injunction.
Bent asked for the temporary order at a hearing Dec. 16.
In the written decision, the court finds that Daniel Banyai owns the property in question and began operating a firearms training facility in 2017 without a permit required by the town’s zoning bylaws.
The court order says Banyai has been served with a notice of violation by the town but has refused to cure the violations and, instead, “continues to develop infrastructure and expand the facility.”
The order says, “The town will suffer immediate, irreparable harm because it will not be able to exercise its police powers to maintain the public health, safety, and welfare by enforcing its own zoning regulations, and by preventing ongoing disturbance to neighboring property owners caused by “Defendant’s unpermitted activity.”
The order prohibits Banyai “shall not conduct or permit to be conducted any school and/or firearms training-related activities on the property situated [at] 541 Briar Hill Road, nor host clases of any type on the property, from the receipt of the order until further order of this court.”
Bent said late Thursday that she had sent a copy of the order to Banyai and he responded with questions and would receive a copy from the court soon.
Bent also said that should Banyai not abide by the court order, the town would likely pursue a contempt action that could result in a fine, and if that did not stop the violations, an escalated contempt action could ask for a jail sentence if the order was not followed.
Protective order issued
Banyai also had a stalking order against him granted Jan. 15.
A Superior Court judge granted the protective order against stalking requested by a neighbor who asked for protection from Daniel Banyai in the court’s.
Superior Court Judge Helen M. Toor issued the protective order against Banyai in the Civil Court action brought by Mandy Hulett for herself and her teenage children.
The order finds that Banyai on more than one occasion threatened or made threats against Hulett and her family.
Banyai is ordered to stay away from Hulett and her children. According to the order, “stay away” means “do not talk to, telephone, text, email or use any other electronic form of communication to make contact, and do not post to them or about them on social media, and do not ask other people to give them messages.”
Hullett testified at the hearing two days prior to the order that Banyai had posted multiple threatening and harassing messages about her family on Facebook.
Hulett’s attorney Pietro Lynn submitted several pieces of evidence that were accepted by Toor. One was a video taken during a class on “vehicle assault” that featured a vehicle that had been shot through the door bearing “Hulett Trucking” hand-written on the door. In the video, Banyai narrates, “So if you think you can hide in your car and be safe behind the door from a bullet, you’re wrong.”
Another Facebook post Hulett used as an example for why she needed the protective order was posted the day before Hulett was to testify Dec. 16 in an Environmental Court hearing about Banyai’s permit issues.
The post, which is no longer on the Slate Ridge Facebook page, included two photos of a white BMW that is the same year, make and model as the car Hulett’s teenage daughter drives.
“We need a [sic] Suv to shoot up. Help us find this type of vehicle to shoot up and then blow up.”
In response to questions by his attorney, Jill Barger, Banyai said he did not intend to threaten or harm the Huletts.
The Environmental Court case against Banyai appears to be moving toward a conclusion but not necessarily the end.
The case, which has been ongoing for about a year and a half, advanced toward a decision in the past month.
In a Merits Hearing on Dec. 16, Judge Thomas Durkin told both sides he would give them until Jan. 15 to submit arguments summarizing the case.
Those arguments were filed and both sides now have 16 days to respond.
Durkin said he wanted to know what zoning violations had occurred and what violations continue without correction.
At the Dec. 16 hearing, attorney Merrill Bent asked the judge to grant the town an emergency injunction to stop Banyai from engaging in any school activities or training, which Durkin granted Dec. 21.
Banyai represented himself in both cases, including preparing his brief for the court. During cross-examination during the merits hearing, Banyai refused to answer any questions presented to him forcing Durkin to hold him in contempt and admitting the evidence Banyai refused to answer questions about.
But that might be changing as the two sides wait for the final hearing.
On Facebook, there is a move to collect money to help Banyai defend himself.
Sarah Toscano, who recently ran unsuccessfully for the Vermont House of Representatives out of Hinesburg, has launched a GoFundMe effort to “Help Slate Ridge teach gun owners to be safe!”
The fundraiser says, “Disputes with neighbors have led to the town attempting to zone Slate Ridge out of existence. We need Slate Ridge! Please help us raise the funds we will need to defend their legal right to exist!”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the effort had four donations pledged totaling $575 out of the $10,000 goal.
Contradictions under oath
Recently Banyai has begun to deny things that have either been seen as fact up to this point or even that he has testified to under oath.
Banyai has never denied owning Slate Ridge until recently, but at the hearing for the protective order against him, under oath, Banyai said he doesn’t own or operate Slate Ridge.
Under questioning, Banyai said Slate Ridge is not a business and is only the name of the land at 541 Briar Hill Road in Pawlet.
When asked if there was a shooting facility at Slate Ridge, he said, “Can you define shooter?”
He then said that Slate Ridge was operated on property owned by him.
Asked if people unrelated to him came to Slate Ridge to use firearms, Banyai said, “no.”
Asked if the only people who went to Slate Ridge to use firearms were related to him, Banyai said, “yes.”
Some of that may be because Banyai, on Facebook, often refers to anybody who comes to Slate Ridge as “family.”
Asked if he offered classes at Slate Ridge in the use of firearms, Banyai said, “No.”
In a similar line of questioning about the Slate Ridge Facebook page, Banyai also denied owning, posting to, or even having any control over what is posted on the Facebook page.
He testified under oath that he is not involved in the postings on the Slate Ridge page and doesn’t have any input into the content posted.
He also said he couldn’t take postings down nor could he instruct somebody to remove posts.
Asked who was in charge of the page, Banyai said, “other individuals,” and when asked who they were, he added that he wasn’t willing to bring them into the matter until ordered by the judge to answer the question, he said the person’s name was Martha Dean.
Attorney Bent said Banyai has testified under oath in prior court appearances that he does own Slate Ridge and does control the Facebook page.
“He does control the Facebook page and he does own Slate Ridge,” Bent said. “The evidence in front of the judge that’s hearing the case is he does own those things.”