Felony assault? Car-wielding property owner arrested
A citizen icon of the property rights and environmental movements spent the night behind bars, charged by Charlottesville Police with a felony, but according to a witness to the arrest, Louis Schultz was simply staging a peaceful defense of his own private property.
"It was kind of like a low-grade Tiannamen Square," says Rob Schilling, host of WINA's Schilling Show. "Louis had the nose of the car up to the bulldozer, blade-to-blade with the bulldozer. It was eerily reminiscent of 1989."
That proximity, however, say police, is what cost Schultz his freedom.
According to Charlottesville Police Lieutenant Gary Pleasants, Charlottesville Public Works employees under orders to perform sewer pipe repairs April 29 claim that Schultz drove his car onto a narrow lane in the Woolen Mills neighborhood and pulled up close, "almost striking" one worker with his bumper. When Shultz allegedly "almost struck" a second worker, the bucket on the heavy equipment was put down to protect the workers.
The city workers called police; Schultz called Rob Schilling, who videotaped his seemingly peaceful arrest.
Louis Schultz has been arrested before on the portion of Steephill Street that the deed to his property says he owns. Previously, the misdemeanor charges have been dismissed. This time, however, he was ordered held overnight without bond. And his car has been towed.
In the past, Schultz has been cited by city officials for violating rules on "weeds." However, he earned a measure of vindication on that matter when the city, in 2006, redrafted its ordinances to recognize the importance of "riparian buffers."
Schultz says he originally was charged with two felony counts, according to his wife and Schilling, whom he called from jail. Court officials now say the charge is one count of attempted malicious wounding.
Schultz was held overnight behind bars because, says Pleasants, "The magistrate asked what he'd do if he let him go, and [Schultz] said he'd go back and protect his property."
That became a condition of his bond at a 10am Friday, April 30, hearing in Charlottesville General District Court, in which Schultz appeared on video from the jail.
"If you're released on bond and City of Charlottesville workers need to come on your property, are you prepared to remain away from them and not physically interfere?" asked Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman. After clarifying that he could take photographs, Schultz agreed.
Judge Bob Downer set bond at $5,000 and released Schultz on his own recognizance, with supervision. He ordered Schultz not to interfere with the activities of city employees in the 300-block of Steephill and the 1800-block of Chesapeake, and to stay away from the city's public works facilities on 4th Street.
City workers may have no reason to enter Schultz's property because they finished the sewer line repair at 12:20pm April 29, according to City Attorney Craig Brown.
An extensive email correspondence between Schultz and Brown details the confusion over Steephill in the 1887 subdivision plat. In 2007, Schultz complained that the city had illegally seized his property and Brown told the Hook he didn't know whether Steephill was public or private property.
Murky records play a part in the latest clash over the mud-clogged sanitary sewer line. "We have a prescriptive easement," says Brown, because the line has been in use for more than 10 years. "My guess is that [water, sewer and gas lines] went in there when the city annexed Woolen Mills in 1963."
"That seems unlikely to me considering that fact that you also stated that you don't know who installed the sewer line," writes Schultz in an April 20 email to Brown.
Citing previous damage to his property by city workers, Schultz asked that a qualified engineer write a proposal for the repairs and that the city post a bond. City engineer Lauren Hildebrand met with Schultz the day before the repair work was scheduled, and so did Brown, says the city attorney.
"We provided more level of data than usual," says Brown. "I told him I didn't think a bond on completion of the work was what he wanted. I said we had liability insurance."
Now Schultz is the one faced with posting bond. His next appearance in court is June 10 for a preliminary hearing.
Updated 12:25pm with results from bond hearing and clarification on the number of charges.