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  1. #1

    Angry Oceanfront Trespassing Without Touching Dry Land

    My question involves criminal law for the state of: Washington

    Hello, thanks for viewing. No really, my genuine thanks for taking the time .

    This is in regards to a place in Washington where people regularly surf.

    This location features both a state park, and an adjacent privately owned section of coast. The owners/proprietors of the RV park on the privately owned section assert ownership of the land below the water in front of their property.

    I have been accessing the ocean from the public park via its parking lot and trail to the water consistently for several months. I will occasionally drift down shore via current when in the water, or walk that way in shallow water (~1 foot deep). Knowing from speaking with other surfers that these owners were sensitive to trespassing (they charge a "day use fee" of $5), I have been careful to always remain IN the water, even if its in very shallow water. It was my belief that this was covered in every state....that is to say that I thought if I was in the water of the ocean I could not be considered to be trespassing on somebody's "land" vs. water---that was my thinking. (I was operating on the simple belief that nobody owns the ocean, if I'm in water I'm in the ocean, not trespassing on land).

    Sunday, 11/1, I returned to my vehicle to be aggressively accosted by a woman telling me this was "my last warning" and next time I'd be dealing with the police. I was in no mood, and told her she didn't own the ocean and to stick it.

    After changing out of my wetsuit, I drove down the road from the public parking to the RV park office, where I again told them that they do not own the ocean, and told them that I won't be scammed into paying them to be in the ocean under threat of them calling police. The woman there claimed to have seen me (among 15 or so people coming and going, all in black wet suits with variations of white/blue surfboards, some of whom were on the beach, some of whom were using the trail access across the private land, etc) on dry land there. I vehemently insisted that I was in the ocean the entire time, I told her she didn't understand the law, and was told that the police were on their way. The man there made a point of telling me that even though I'm big that I don't scare him, I made it clear that I just want to be left alone by these people. It is worth noting at this stage that I am, in any state, an intimidating man (for most people). People are intimidated by my size, no matter what is happening. I'm 6'4" and 250 lbs. I don't try to use that, but I've had occasions in the past where people felt I was trying to "be intimidating" when I hadn't the first thought of that. I said some profane things in the conversation: "you crazy bitch, leave me alone, you don't own the ocean. Stay the **** away from me." They said "we're asking you to leave". So I left. I've recently left the fire service, and this guy had some indication on his hat that he was some kind of volunteer fireman, I also had some insulting words for him with regard to that.

    I left the area, which is accessed by a single paved road. I realized in process of driving away expecting to see police that it was 11/1 and my 10/31 license plates were invalid. I had new plates that I'd tossed in the truck in a hurry and hadn't installed. So I pulled off the road and installed them.

    In the middle of this process, I was blocked on both sides by sheriffs deputies, who asked for an explanation about the plates, which I provided...and an explanation of what had happened at the beach. I provided them that I was in the water surfing, and that the woman had accosted me in the parking lot. I clarified where I'd parked (public) and the access (public) and that I was in the water continuously. They said it didn't matter, that they own the land under the water, and that they were going to talk to her and I may get a citation in the mail. I gave a written statement saying that I parked on public land, accessed the ocean through public land, stayed in the water, and was accosted at my truck by this woman when I returned to it.

    Now, looking into this further this week, on Tuesday, I found that there is such a thing as private ownership of the ocean in this ridiculous state. (I genuinely thought these people were crazy, or lying, or both....with regard to owning the "land under the ocean"...or "tidelands" or whatever). I wanted to do the right thing, take the high road, so I drove out to their office again, and offered an apology and to pay their day use fee for the other day. The man I spoke with was very appreciative of the apology but wouldn't take payment, saying things like "you don't owe us anything" and "no, I can't take that from you"....despite my trying to insist that he let me try to pay what I owed.

    So I went home and wrote a letter saying what I'd said to the employee, that I was sorry I was over their tidelands, and that I wanted to pay for the several times I'd been over them in the past, with some interest (6% for 4 months) and purchase their seasonal pass for the future, and pay them for the 3 hours they spent waiting on me to come out of the water at $20/hr. I expressed in the letter that I was mistaken, and sorry, and that I wished to make it right. I sent that letter off to the sheriffs and the prosecutor with a short explanation of the situation, much like what I've posted here.

    I received my letter and check...sent back in a certified letter today, with a note saying that they reserve the right to refuse service and that my abusive behavior isn't acceptable and that they're requesting the county prosecutor charge me with criminal trespass!

    I looked, and that charge is a misdemeanor with $1000 fine and 90 days in jail!! I am in disbelief really. I have a girlfriend living in Canada, we had hoped I could move there eventually. I am in nursing school, it seems like misdemeanor convictions really affect nursing licensure....I have a 4.0 in college thus far, I have never been in any trouble-no arrests, nothing. I was in the federal fire service for many years, I do charity work. I've tried to make this right the best way I can...

    What am I looking at here?

    Have I shot myself in the foot trying to do the right thing?

    If this is my sanctuary, and I keep going out there, carefully keeping to the deep water and on the public side of the line, can this woman just report things to the police and have me put in jail-even if it doesn't stick? Does an officer have to witness the crime of trespass, or if it's "he said/she said" is that typically enough to convict somebody? Does my letter and my statement, both saying I was in shallow water on the tidelands, constitute a confession!?!?

    Should I expect police to track me down and arrest me for this at some stage?

    Everyone, and I mean everyone (far beyond surfers) I've talked to around here, and even surfers far from here, has/have some story about an altercation with these people, and it seems like these people are commonly viewed as crazy. The police, however, were very supportive of her "tideland" ownership rights in their communication with me, mentioning that they've prosecuted many cases like this.

    It would seem like the public trust doctrine covers this, but it's so confusing trying to research the law, and it seems like it may not even be really settled in this state? How does that affect how a prosecutor approaches a case like this?


    This is very troubling.

    another question: ...can I consult with a public defender before charges have been filed? Should I? What is a normal fee for a case like this (or a ballpark guess?).

    What a mess. Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Behind a Desk

    Default Re: Oceanfront Trespassing Without Touching Dry Land

    Lot's of people threaten prosecution without ever contacting the police. Many others contact the police, but it turns out that there's not sufficient evidence of a crime and that charges are never filed. However, if you confessed to a crime, you've made prosecution a lot easier. What were the circumstances that led to your talking to the police?

    This forum post, from a few years ago, tries to explain the law:
    Quote Quoting tidelands rigts in Washington State
    Actually, in Washington State, the meander line or high tide land is the boundary between the tideland and the uplands. This line is determined by when the uplands were originally conveyed by the USA or the State of Washington. The area from this line out seaward to low tide is the tidelands or shorelands and they may also be owned as private property. The only rights that the public has to privately owned tidelands are to the water that may cover this land. The beach beneath is private and had the same laws regarding private ownership including getting you fined or arrested for trespassing.
    A public defender's office is unlikely to talk to you before you're charged and they're appointed to represent you (assuming the county at issue uses a public defender's office, and not just appointed lawyers). But that doesn't mean you can't call and see if somebody will talk to you.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2006

    Default Re: Oceanfront Trespassing Without Touching Dry Land

    hang on to the letter and the check. While you were apparently trespassing due to your ignorance of the law, you did no damage while there and attempted to make restitution for failing to pay for their "permit".

    If the DA does attempt to prosecute you (which I seriously doubt will happen), you have support for your lack of knowingly breaking the law (I know, ignorance is not a defense) and your attempt to pay for any fees that should have been paid.
    I would think it would simply be bad press for everybody involved and will not go anywhere.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Oceanfront Trespassing Without Touching Dry Land

    Quote Quoting Mr. Knowitall
    View Post
    What were the circumstances that led to your talking to the police?
    Well, 2 deputies "surrounded" me while I was on the side of the road home (installing my new license plates) and asked for an explanation of what had gone on at the beach. That was a face to face talk, and I wrote out a statement for them explaining the facts: parked on public, ingress/egress to the water via public land, remained in the water the whole time....was accosted by woman in public parking upon return to vehicle.

    I sent the letter off (days later) to apprise the police and prosecutor of my efforts to resolve this out of court.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2006

    Default Re: Oceanfront Trespassing Without Touching Dry Land

    well, I would still hope for the best. It is up to the DA to prosecute, not an individual and your attempts at restitution, although after being contacted by the police, may still show an honest attempt at restitution in their eyes.

    If there are no charges, I suggest this would be a great life lesson that it is often not in your best interest to make an argument in a situation where you thought you were correct. You never know when your mistake may come back to bite you in the end.

    and if you have not already done so, I would suggest it would be a great idea to inform your surfing buddies that they too are in the wrong and should respect the owners rights. It might help if they would send written apologies and include the "permit fee" for anytime they had committed trespass. I would caution them not to include their names but to make it anonymous.

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