TIME environtment

Dutch Man Fined for Crashing Drone into Yellowstone Hot Spring

View of the 'Grand Prismatic' hot spring
View of the 'Grand Prismatic' hot spring with it's unique colors caused by brown, orange and yellow algae-like bacteria called Thermophiles, that thrive in the cooling water turning the vivid aqua-blue to a murkier greenish brown, in the Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming on June 1, 2011. MARK RALSTON—AFP/Getty Images

The unmanned aerial vehicle is still at the bottom of the famed hot spring

A U.S. federal judge has ordered a Dutch tourist to pay $3,200 in fines and restitution after the man crashed his drone into an iconic hot spring at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

Theodorus Van Vilet pleaded guilty to crashing his drone into the Grand Prismatic Spring in August 2014. A judge ordered him to pay a $1,000 fine and $2,200 in restitution over the incident. Authorities have been unable to locate the exact location of the downed drone, which remains at the bottom of the hot spring.

The ruling is the second guilty verdict this year stemming from a violation of the National Park Service’s drone ban issued in June. A German man was ordered to pay $1,600 in fines and restitution after crashing his drone into Yellowstone Lake in July. A third case involving an Oregon man is pending.

TIME justice

Obama Mulls Replacements for Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder Announces Civil Rights Investigation Into Michael Brown Death
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announces a Justice Department 'patterns and practice' investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri, police department during a news conference at the department's headquarters Sept. 4, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

The President announced Eric Holder will remain in office until a successor is confirmed

The White House is already working with a narrow list of possible successors to outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, Democratic sources familiar with the selection process tell TIME.

The candidates include former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington State Jenny Durkan, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and former Associate Attorney General Tony West, the Democratic sources say.

President Barack Obama has not yet decided whom he will choose to succeed Holder, White House officials say, and Holder will stay in office until a successor is confirmed by the Senate. The sources caution that the list of seven names is not exhaustive, and that some on it are being more seriously considered than others. The White House has initiated a formal selection process run by a team that will include White House Counsel Neil Eggleston and will involve interviews and background checks both for security and for political viability.

That latter consideration will be important as the Administration intends to bring the nominee up for Senate consideration during the lame-duck session after the midterm elections in November. Already Republicans, including the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), have said the confirmation process should be put off until January, when a new, possibly Republican-led Senate convenes.

That is unlikely, though.

“This is a high-priority position; it’s important not just for the President in terms of offering some advice and counsel, it also is important to the country in terms of enforcing our laws,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday afternoon. “So this is something that will get a fair amount of attention and I’m confident that whoever is nominated to this position will be the kind of candidate that deserves bipartisan support in the Senate.”

But in a sign of how cold relations between the White House and Hill Republicans have become, an aide to Grassley said the senator was not informed of Holder’s imminent resignation before the announcement Thursday, and as of 6 p.m. that evening, he had not been contacted by the Administration. An aide to Senate Judiciary Committee’s Democratic chairman, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said the senator and Holder had spoken “in the last couple of days.”

It is unclear whether the White House intends to consult Republicans as part of the process of selecting a nominee. Holder’s predecessor, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, was picked by then-President George W. Bush after lengthy discussions with Senate Democrats, though the circumstances were quite different. In the wake of the scandal surrounding the politically-motivated firing of federal prosecutors by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the Bush White House had secret conversations with powerful Democrats, who controlled the Senate. One Democratic aide then on the Judiciary Committee said Bush’s White House counsel Fred Fielding consulted Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) over possible successors and that Sen. Harry Reid (R-Nev.) rejected one candidate, former Solicitor General Ted Olson. Both sides eventually settled on Mukasey.

The candidates this time represent a fairly broad cross section of legal backgrounds. Two have limited experience on national security matters. At least one has a rocky record of confirmation in the Senate.

Perez faced a tough battle in the Senate to become Labor Secretary, getting confirmed 54-46 on a party-line vote after overcoming a GOP filibuster. Mayorkas was confirmed as Homeland deputy last December after heading the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; he was previously a U.S. attorney in California during the Clinton administration. Napolitano served as Obama’s Homeland Security secretary from 2009-13. Durkan has said she intends to step down as the top prosecutor in Seattle this month; she prosecuted financial and national security cases. Bharara has successfully pursued scores of insider trading cases on Wall Street and several high profile national security cases. Verrilli is the Administration’s top lawyer at the Supreme Court and argued high-profile cases including the successful defense of Obamacare. West stepped down Sept. 15 as the No. 3 Justice Department official after successfully winning more than $30 billion in settlements from Wall Street banks in the wake of the financial crisis.

TIME justice

President Obama Announces Eric Holder Will Step Down

President Obama Announces Resignation Of Eric Holder
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. who announced his resignation today, Sept. 25, 2014 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee—Getty Images

Pays tribute to "one of the longest-serving attorney generals in American history"

President Barack Obama paid tribute to Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday, as he announced the resignation of the country’s top law enforcement official.

Standing alongside Holder at a White House press conference, the president confirmed the “bittersweet” news that America’s first black attorney general’s would step down from his position as soon as a successor was confirmed by the Senate.

“Bobby Kennedy once said, ‘on this generation of Americans falls the full burden of proving to the world that we really mean it when we say all men are created free and equal before the law,'” said Obama. “As one of the longest-serving attorney generals in American history, Eric Holder has borne that burden.”

Obama credited Holder—who has a portrait of Kennedy on his office wall—as a civil rights defender who spent his career atop the Justice Department reforming the criminal justice code, defending voting rights and supporting the legal rights of same-sex marriage advocates.

The president also pushed back against criticism that the Justice Department had not done enough in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. “He’s helped safeguard our markets from manipulation and consumers from financial fraud. Since 2009, the Justice Department has brought more than 60 cases against financial institutions and won some of the largest settlements in history for practices related to the financial crisis, recovering $85 billion, much of it returned to ordinary Americans who were badly hurt.”

But Obama said that the AG’s “proudest achievement” might be his “reinvigorating and restoring the core mission” of the DoJ’s Civil Rights Division. “He has been relentless against attacks on the Voting Rights Act because no citizen, including our servicemembers, should have to jump through hoops to exercise their most fundamental right,” said Obama. “He’s challenged discriminatory state immigration laws that not only risked harassment of citizens and legal immigrants, but actually made it harder for law enforcement to do its job.”

Holder said he came to the end of six years leading the Justice Department “with very mixed emotions,” occasionally fighting back tears as he spoke. “I’m proud of what the men and women of the Justice Department have accomplished,” he added, but said he was “very sad” that he would serve alongside them no longer.

Addressing Obama, he said: “I hope that I have done honor to the faith that you have placed in me, Mr. President, and the legacy of all those who have served before me.”

TIME

LIVE: Obama Announces Eric Holder Retirement

Will step down once a successor has been confirmed

President Obama was expected to announce the impending retirement of Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday afternoon. Justice Department officials confirmed earlier in the day that the country’s first black attorney general would step down once a successor has been confirmed.

TIME Crime

NYPD Confrontation With Pregnant Woman is Latest Police Video to Go Viral

The recording of an NYPD officer shoving a pregnant woman to the ground belly first is part of a shift in the relationship between the public and police

It was another disturbing video of a heated police encounter: As New York Police Department officers attempted to arrest a suspect, a pregnant woman is taken down by one of them, her swollen stomach hitting the pavement. And like an increasing number of police incidents, it was recorded by bystanders and widely shared on social media.

This one began early in the morning on Sept. 20 in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn, when police tried to arrest 17-year-old Jhohan Lemos for carrying a knife. The footage shows his mother, Sandra Amezquita, trying to intervene, then getting shoved to the ground belly first by an NYPD officer and later given a summons for disorderly conduct.

“The first thing I thought was they killed my baby and they’re going to kill my wife,” Ronel Lemos, Amezquita’s husband, told The New York Daily News.

Amezquita filed an excessive force complaint, prompting an investigation by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau. Her lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, said in a news conference Wednesday that Amezquita was suffering from vaginal bleeding.

The significance of the footage goes far beyond the borders of this Brooklyn neighborhood. The video from Sunset Park is the latest in a string of recorded confrontations between the police and the public that have fundamentally changed the relationship between the two.

Since a bystander captured Los Angeles Police Department officers assaulting Rodney King on a camcorder in 1991, ever-more-accessible recording devices have added layers of eyes and evidence to encounters with law enforcement that were once unthinkable. The fatal shooting of Oscar Grant by Oakland police in 2009 was documented by commuters at the train station where it happened. The death of Eric Garner during an arrest on Staten Island, N.Y. launched a national debate on the use of force by police after cell phone video of the confrontation went viral. And in the tense aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson, Mo., an organization called We Copwatch has provided citizens with cameras to document the actions of local police.

“The police are often the only people at a scene without cameras,” says John DeCarlo, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

That, too, is changing. Dozens of police departments are now testing or considering adopting body-worn cameras for officers. Police in Ferguson are now using cameras and the NYPD is testing two types of officer recording devices. Law enforcement agencies in Miami Beach, Washington, D.C., and Colorado Springs all plan to start wearing cameras by October.

The effect of all this surveillance can make it seem like the police are increasingly heavy-handed, but the numbers say otherwise. “There may be fewer incidents of abuse of force nowadays than there had been during the 1960s and ‘70s and earlier than that, but because we see them more commonly now because of the advent of cameras, people think they’re going up,” says DeCarlo.

Earlier this month, New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton released statistics showing that only 2% of the 400,000 arrests last year involved use of force by officers, a decrease of 8.5% from 20 years ago. The figures have been challenged by city council members who questioned the way the police department defined use of force, but the drop mirrors a similar decline in departments around the nation. In 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 1.4% of people who had contact with police reported that an officer had used force or threatened to do so, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, down from 1.5% in 2002 and 1.6% in 2005.

But there is no doubt that recordings can elevate local incidents into national issues. And for many of the people behind the cameras, that’s just the point. The video of Amezquita was released by El Grito de Sunset Park, a community watch group. Its leader, Dennis Flores, has his own history with the NYPD: After filming police arresting a teenager in the neighborhood in 2002, Flores says the cops destroyed his camera, assaulted and arrested him. He says he later received a six-figure settlement that allowed him to form the group and buy dozens of cameras for neighborhood citizens to record officer incidents. One of those cameras, he says, was used to film Saturday’s altercation.

“We don’t interfere or obstruct,” Flores says. “We’re just trying to help prevent abuse. Citizens now with their cell phones are able to document and upload these videos for all the world to see. They’re balancing power.”

TIME justice

Congress Divided on Eric Holder’s Legacy

Democrats and Republicans quickly split on a divisive figure

Lawmakers were divided Thursday in their reaction to Attorney General Eric Holder’s impending resignation, underscoring his divisive tenure as the country’s top law enforcement official.

On TV, on Twitter and in public statements, Democrats were as quick to praise the nation’s outgoing top cop as Republicans were to vilify him.

“I hate to see Eric Holder leave,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Judiciary Committee chairman, told NBC. “I remember the day he was sworn in and the huge cheers that echoed throughout the Department of Justice—throughout the building—because they were finally getting somebody who actually knew how the Justice Department worked, who cared about law enforcement, cared about the rule of law.”

“I’ve been here through a lot of attorneys general and nobody has done it better than he has,” added Leahy, who was elected to the Senate in 1974.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said Holder has “led the fight to protect the right to vote for all citizens.”

And Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights hero who gave a glowing tribute to Holder for the TIME 100 this year, was taken aback when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced the news at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation event.

“Oh wow,” said Lewis. “Why? That is so bad. … That is so sad.”

“His resignation is a great loss for any American seeking justice in our society,” Lewis said in a statement later. “He became the symbol of fairness, an embodiment of the best in the federal government. He has been a persistent and consistent leader in the struggle for civil and human rights. That legacy is in his bones. It is written on his heart, and his intelligence and committed leadership will be hard to replace.”

Republicans didn’t share in the Democrats’ grief.

Rep. Darrell Isssa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee and perhaps Capitol Hill’s most vocal Holder antagonist, cheered the news, tweeting that Holder has the “dubious distinction” of being the first Attorney General held in contempt of Congress. Issa led the drive for that 2012 House vote after Holder declined to hand over documents related to the so-called Fast and Furious scandal, in which federal law enforcement agents allowed the sale of weapons so they could track the flow of them to Mexican drug cartels. One of the weapons was found at the scene of the shooting death of an American border patrol agent in 2010.

“Eric Holder is the most divisive U.S. Attorney General in modern history,” Issa tweeted. “By needlessly injecting politics into law enforcement, Holder’s legacy has eroded more confidence in our legal system than any AG before him.”

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said in a statement that Holder had “repeatedly refused” to enforce U.S. law and that his resignation is “great news” and long overdue. Brady said his record includes the following: “Ignoring the clearly unlawful behavior of IRS employee Lois Lerner, illegal gun-running to Mexican drug cartels and being held in contempt by the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said in a statement no other Attorneys General had “attacked Louisiana more than Holder.”

“He’s tried to defund a Louisiana youth program because students prayed, sued to block voucher scholarships going to poor kids in failing schools, and threatened the release of Louisiana voters’ personal information,” Vitter said. “I’m proud to have voted against this Senate confirmation.”

TIME justice

Eric Holder Will Leave a Legacy of Civil Rights Activism

Barack Obama, Eric Holder
President Barack Obama, accompanied by Attorney General Eric Holder, speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014, to announce Holder is resigning. Evan Vucci—AP

Holder used the bully pulpit to highlight racial injustices he saw around him

Attorney General Eric Holder showed in his second week in office that he planned to approach the job of top law enforcement officer differently.

“In things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” he said, in prepared remarks to Justice Department staff on Feb. 18, 2009. “Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must—and will—lead the nation to the ‘new birth of freedom’ so long ago promised by our greatest President.”

The remarks earned a backlash from the West Wing staff around President Barack Obama, but Holder’s attitude never changed, nor did his determination to use his office to highlight the injustices that continued to exist under his tenure. “We’ve got to have the guts to say that these are issues that need to be fixed,” he told a group of black journalists during a meeting at the White House last year.

As news broke Thursday of Holder’s decision to retire after almost six years in the job as the first black leader of the Justice Department, civil rights activists were quick to praise him. “No attorney general has demonstrated a civil rights record that is similar to Eric Holder’s,” Al Sharpton, the head of the National Action Network, told reporters in Washington.

“Attorney General Holder never shied away from the issues that greatly affect us all,” Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain activist Medgar Evers, said in a statement.

Through his tenure, Holder often referred to the portrait of his predecessor Robert F. Kennedy, which hangs in his office, as a guiding light for him. Like Kennedy’s efforts to address civil rights issues in the 1960s, Holder’s department made criminal justice reform a priority, and has worked aggressively to continue to challenge limits on voting rights after the Supreme Court overturned parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Holder has also launched a number of high profile investigations of the conduct of local police departments in about 20 cities, often obtaining consent agreements that change police conduct.

In a major address to the American Bar Association in August of 2013, Holder did not just lay out a set of reforms to reduce prison terms and improve rehabilitation efforts, but he also challenged the country for what he saw as moral failures. “One deeply troubling report… indicates that in recent years black male offenders have received sentences nearly 20 percent longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes,” he said. “This isn’t just unacceptable—it is shameful. It’s unworthy of our great country, and our great legal tradition.”

Before speaking those words, he had given a draft of his remarks to Obama during a vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. In an interview with TIME earlier this year, Holder recalled Obama’s reaction. “It’s a gutsy speech,” the President told him, encouraging him to deliver the speech.

Holder also spoke multiple times about the discrimination he believed he had experienced as a black man. “I am the attorney general of the United States, but I am also a black man,” he said during a visit to a community meeting in Ferguson, Mo., this year, where he recounted his anger at being stopped by police while running down the street in Washington, D.C., and while driving on the New Jersey turnpike. “I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me.”

Like many other efforts, he spoke these words not just as a cabinet secretary but as a social activist, urging the country to be better. “The same kid who got stopped on the New Jersey freeway is now the Attorney General of the United States,” he said in Ferguson. “This country is capable of change. But change doesn’t happen by itself.”

TIME Crime

Civil Rights Leaders Want Feds to Intervene in Ferguson Probe

“Whether they wear blue jeans or blue uniforms, criminals must be held accountable”

Civil rights leaders called Thursday for the federal government to intervene in criminal investigations into the deaths of two unarmed black men killed by police.

Officials from the National Urban League, the National Action Network and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People condemned the law enforcement response to both the cases of Michael Brown, who was shot by a Missouri police officer on Aug. 9, and Eric Garner, who died after being held in a chokehold by New York police earlier this summer. Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr., the parents of Michael Brown, joined Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington.

Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network said police offers need to be held accountable for the deaths of both men.

“Whether they wear blue jeans or blue uniforms, criminals must be held accountable,” Sharpton said. The news conference took place as Police Chief Thomas Jackson of Ferguson, Mo., publicly apologized to Brown’s family, weeks after often violent clashes in the St. Louis suburb over the shooting drew national attention.

Brown’s parents did not publicly comment on the police chief’s apology, but Sharpton said Thomas’ response was “too little, too late.”

“The answer is justice for this family,” Sharpton said. “Now to come with an apology when the family is here asking for the Justice Department to come in is suspect at best.”

A grand jury has been convened in Ferguson to determine whether or not charges should be brought against the officer responsible for Brown’s death. The grand jury proceedings have been wrought with uncertainty, and local civil rights leaders have suggested an indictment may not be coming. The Department of Justice is also investigating, looking into whether there were any civil rights violations at the time of the teen’s death.

But civil rights leaders said Thursday they want more. While they are in Washington, the families of Garner and Brown are set to meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus who have convened for their annual legislative conference about federal legislation to end racial profiling and better monitor police activity. The leaders also announced an upcoming march to bring the “Hands Up” protest movement sparked by Brown’s death to the nation’s capitol.

TIME justice

Attorney General Eric Holder to Resign

Eric Holder
Attorney General Eric Holder speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the Justice Department in Washington, on Sept. 16, 2014. Susan Walsh—AP

His tenure as attorney general has been the fourth-longest in history

Attorney General Eric Holder will announce his resignation Thursday, a Justice Department official confirmed, bringing an end to the tenure of one of President Barack Obama’s closest and longest-serving aides.

Holder is expected to make his announcement later on Thursday, according to NPR, which first reported the news. Obama is scheduled to make a statement from the White House late Thursday afternoon. Holder, 63, and the country’s first black attorney general, has been increasingly “adamant” about leaving the Justice Department soon for fear that he’d otherwise be locked in for the rest of Obama’s presidency, NPR reports, and plans to do so once a successor is confirmed.

His tenure as attorney general has been the fourth-longest in history, and he served from the outset of Obama’s presidency, staying in the Administration long after many other top aides left. It was marked by a focus on civil rights that was praised by some black leaders but criticized by others who expected more from the nation’s first black president and first black attorney general.

“No attorney general has demonstrated a civil rights record that is similar to Eric Holder’s,” Al Sharpton, the civil rights leaders and president of the National Action Network, told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington. He was speaking there Thursday as news of Holder’s impending resignation broke. “If reports are true, we have lost in effect the most effective civil rights attorney general in the history of this country,” Sharpton said.

Holder also frequently found himself as the favored target of congressional Republicans, especially over the so-called Fast and Furious scandal, in which federal law enforcement agents allowed the sale of weapons so they could track the flow of them to Mexican drug cartels. One of the weapons was found at the scene of the shooting death of an American border patrol agent in 2010.

While serving on the D.C. Superior Court in the late 1980s following an appointment from President Ronald Reagan, Holder earned the nickname Judge Hold ‘Em for not setting bail for those accused of violent crimes. He was appointed U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C., in 1993, and in 1997, President Bill Clinton tapped him to become Deputy Attorney General.

-Additional reporting by Massimo Calabresi and Maya Rhodan

TIME justice

Surfers Beat Billionaire in Landmark California Beach Case

A surfer hops the gate at the top of Martins Beach Road, crossing property owned by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla in order to get to Martins Beach on August 7, 2014. Katy Steinmetz for TIME

The latest ruling in the ongoing battle over a northern California surf spot is a blow to venture capitalist Vinod Khosla

A California court issued a milestone ruling Sept. 24 that may restore public access to a beach that requires traveling across privately owned land, the latest turn in a multi-year legal frenzy that has pitted the surfers who cross the property against the billionaire who owns it.

Judge Barbara Mallach of San Mateo Superior Court ruled against venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, who was sued by the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation after his property manager blocked the public from accessing a beloved seaside spot known as Martins Beach.

At the center of the controversy is a low-slung metal gate that sits at the top of Martins Beach Road, an offshoot of the Pacific Coast Highway that is the only way to access Martins Beach from dry land. The road snakes across 53 acres that Khosla bought for $32.5 million in 2008. For two years, his property manager allowed the public to occasionally visit a stretch of sand where locals have gone smelt-fishing and surfing and picnicking for decades. But Khosla allowed the gate to be closed permanently in 2010 after his property manager received a letter from the county demanding that it stay open every day.

The conflict comes at a time when an influx of tech wealth has sharpened class tension in northern California. “[Kholsa] believes that he can find a way to use his wealth and power to strong-arm the situation,” says Chad Nelsen, environmental director of the Surfrider Foundation.

Khosla doesn’t own a home on the land and says he has no plans to build one. The decision to shut off access to the road was a way to take a stand about what he felt were his basic rights. “This is a case about private property,” Khosla told TIME in an email. “We need to assert our rights and get the courts to clarify them.”

Khosla’s lawyers say they are considering appealing the verdict. “We will continue to seek protection of the constitutional rights of private property owners that are guaranteed by the U.S. and California Constitutions and that have long been upheld by the United States and California Supreme Courts,” his attorneys said in a statement.

Surfrider’s argument rested on a seemingly bureaucratic detail. The organization claimed that under the 1976 Coastal Act, which gave a statewide Coastal Commission jurisdiction over beachfront land, Khosla needed to apply for a development permit in order to close the gate. The commission will often only grant development permits, typically to build a home or another structure, if the public gets an established right of way in return.

“Because they’re in charge of beach development, they’re allowed to do this quid pro quo,” says Arthur McEvoy, a professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. “They can ask you in trade to dedicate a little easement, if the development threatens to impede public access.”

The tricky matter is that while beaches are widely considered public, people don’t necessarily have a right to cross private property to get there. Cases such as this one set precedents that resonate up and down California’s 840 miles of coastline.

The view of Martins Beach from the bottom of Martins Beach Road includes a rock formation known as the “shark’s tooth.” Katy Steinmetz for TIME

It’s easy to see why Martins Beach is beloved. Its sands wrap around a cove with cliffs jutting out on either end, creating a rare surfing spot protected from the wind and also preventing people from walking to the beach from the north or south. Secluded and full of wildlife, its dramatic rock formations are often blanketed by birds. Seals pop their heads up between surfers and the beach.

For decades, cars that wound their way down the road from Highway 1 paid a small fee to the landowners for parking and frequented a snack shop that has fallen into disrepair. A now-defunct sign advertising $15 parking, the amount Khosla’s employees charged when visitors were allowed, still lays on the ground.

Steve Baugher, Khosla’s property manager, testified at the trial that it was his decision to close the gate. He also testified that he hired security guards to “deter trespassers”; their presence prompted five surfers to defiantly march past them last October to proclaim their right to be on the beach. Known as the “Martin’s 5″ the surfers were arrested by the county sheriff but the District Attorney declined to prosecute–inspiring more surfers to take advantage of this legal limbo and hop the fence with abandon.

In California, public access to the beach is protected by the public trust doctrine, a common law that can be traced back to the English crown proclaiming rights to all submerged lands, in order to let the public use the water above them for fishing and navigation.

“Our culture abhors private beaches, and generally speaking our law abhors private beaches as well,” McEvoy said. “And any landowner is going to want to keep people away from their beach.”

In an earlier case that went Khosla’s way, a group called the Friends of Martins Beach used a different angle to sue, testing a clause in the state constitution that declares that no entity shall “exclude the right of way to such water whenever it is required for any public purpose.” In a 2013 ruling, another San Mateo Superior Court judge said that because Martins Beach had been part of a land grant that settled the Mexican-American war in 1848, a year before the constitution was adopted, the intentions of that document were immaterial.

Beyond the ongoing court cases, two other avenues may force the drama to a close. One is a bill sponsored by State Senator Jerry Hill, a San Mateo Democrat, that would require the State Lands Commission to consider purchasing the road if negotiations with Khosla for public access fail. Meanwhile, the Coastal Commission, which has been fielding the public’s complaints about the closure of Martins Beach, is asking people to write in about how they’ve used the area in the past. That testimony may prove there’s a historic right of access that Attorney General Kamala Harris can sue to restore on the Commission’s behalf. “The Commission is trying very hard to bring it to a close,” says Nancy Cave, a commission manager who was part of negotiations with Khosla’s team that went nowhere. “We are frustrated, too.”

Khosla notes that he is not the first owner of the property to limit access, pointing out that previous owners closed the gate during certain hours and seasons and even inconvenient days. In court, property manager Baugher testified that he received a letter from the county demanding that the gates be open year round and parking be charged at the rate of $2, what beachgoers paid in 1973. Khosla has also accused Surfrider and the Coastal Commission of attempting to “blackmail and coerce him,” charges both deny. Surfrider emphasizes that Khosla has allowed changes that are far from what his predecessors did—like painting over a billboard that used to welcome people to come down from Highway 1 to the beach, turning it into a dark green slab.

Surfrider had hoped that the court would also fine Khosla for failing to apply for a permit but Mallach declined, saying that those who closed the gate had acted in good faith that they had the legal right to do so. Nonetheless, Surfrider championed the decision as a “huge victory.”

“Today’s court decision upholding the Coastal Act is an important victory for Martin’s Beach and ultimately strengthens the public’s right to beach access in California,” Angela Howe, Surfrider’s legal director, said in a statement. “The Surfrider Foundation remains vigilant to protect beach access rights, not only in this case, but also in other cases where the beach is wrongfully cut off from the public.”

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