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Man banned from all national forest land in response to social media antics

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

ASPEN — A part-time Colorado resident who documents his disrespect for public lands on social media learned Friday what happens when defendants try to go toe-to-toe with a federal judge.

David Lesh, 35, will not be able to enter millions of acres of U.S. Forest Service land for the foreseeable future thanks to his recent social media post purporting to show him defecating in Maroon Lake, according to a ruling Friday, Oct. 30, by U.S. Magistrate Gordon Gallagher.

In addition, Gallagher forbid Lesh from posting any picture or video on any social media platform of himself or anyone else violating state or federal laws on any federal land under the jurisdiction of the court, including national forests, national monuments, Bureau of Land Management land and other federal property, the judge said.

“I find it appropriate to change (Lesh’s bond conditions) … to protect the land not only from Mr. Lesh’s direct actions, but also from the influence Mr. Lesh clearly has” on social media, Gallagher said. The judge also said he was issuing the ruling “to ensure the safety of the community.”

The ban will last at least the duration of the current federal case against him.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Grand Junction already had threatened to ban Lesh from Forest Service land in early October. That’s when he appeared in U.S. District Court to answer allegations that he trespassed — and posted proof of his actions on social media — at Keystone Resort last winter and Hanging Lake near Glenwood Springs this summer.

However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Hautzinger and Lesh’ attorney, Stephen Laische of Grand Junction, were able to work out a compromise that was accepted by Gallagher on Oct. 2. Under conditions of that compromise, Lesh agreed not to trespass on closed national forest land and abide by all rules on public land or risk arrest and forfeiture of a $1,000 bond.

Nineteen days later, he posted the Maroon Lake picture.

A law enforcement officer with the Forest Service, who supervised the investigation into the photo, noted in an affidavit that Maroon Lake is “part of the watershed that supplies drinking water to Aspen, Colorado, and is one of the most visited sites in the national forest system,” according to a motion Hautzinger filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court. The photo was included with the motion.

“What appears to be fecal matter exiting the body of Lesh is visible in the photo,” according to the officer’s affidavit.

The officer also noted that it is against the rules to enter Maroon Lake in any way, including wading, swimming or boating. However, he also found evidence that the photo “may be older or manipulated in some manner,” according to the affidavit.

“(The Forest Service officer) reported to me that water level in Maroon Lake was currently lower than the Instagram post depicts as well as the presence of floating avalanche debris in the lake that is not present in the Instagram photo,” Special Agent Ben Leach wrote in the affidavit.

On Friday, Hautzinger acknowledged that the photo might have been taken before Gallagher accepted the bond condition compromise Oct. 2.

“But the mere posting of the photo shows the defendant’s intent to flout the court’s order,” Hautzinger said. 

Laische filed a motion Oct. 22 to withdraw as Lesh’s attorney “as a result of the defendant’s latest Instagram posting,” according to Hautzinger’s motion. Laische on Friday cited “irreconcilable difference” with his client in wanting to end the relationship, though he continued to act as Lesh’s attorney throughout Friday’s proceedings.

Laische called Lesh’s actions “injudicious” but said a total ban on millions of acres of forest land was not appropriate or enforceable.

The judge disagreed.

Gallagher acknowledged that “it’s entirely conceivable that (Lesh’s) conduct is contemptuous of the court’s order of Oct. 2” but that the conduct did not occur in the judge’s presence, so he said it wasn’t for him revoke Lesh’s bond and have him arrested. The U.S. Attorney’s Office can proceed with contempt of court charges against Lesh if it wants, he said.

But it was within Gallagher’s purview to alter the conditions of Lesh’s $1,000 bond, he said, before issuing the Forest Service ban.

On Friday, Gallagher asked if Lesh understood the new conditions forbidding him from national forests and from posting pictures of himself or others breaking laws on federal public land.

Lesh asked the judge to postpone the conditions he imposed Friday until he could hire another attorney, probably by the end of next week.

“The request is denied,” Gallagher said, again noting that Lesh must sign the new conditions by Tuesday or risk arrest.

This story is from AspenTimes.com.


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