Just Another Day in Vail

A feud between a cross-dressing goatherder and a neighbor leads to new legal precedent

Out in rural Vail, on the fringes of the Rincon Valley, dirt peddlers have long sold pieces of frontier dreams that are so enticing that buyers snap up land, even when access and water are not guaranteed. Disputes arise. They are sometimes settled with guns, rocks, tough talk or a combination.

Such a mix was made on a winter evening five years ago, when a cross-dressing goat herder and his girlfriend believed a neighbor was aiming to gun them down after a long-simmering dispute suddenly boiled.

Before it was over, Colten "Colt" Griffin had retrieved an aging shotgun and blasted Paco, his neighbor John Lumia's Australian shepherd, after suspecting Paco--during Griffin's standoff with Lumia--came onto to his property to harass some of his 40 goats.

Griffin's shot, which tore apart a large piece of Paco's side and back behind the dog's right shoulder, landed him in jail, then prison, and touched off a we-say, they-say neighborly lawsuit that only now is nearing an end.

Along the way, Griffin, through the persistence of his girlfriend and the work of two lawyers from the Pima County Legal Defender's Office, helped set an important precedent for some felons to not automatically lose their rights to keep and bear arms.

An apparent settlement in the neighbor case will avert a Superior Court trial set to begin April 5, while dramatically diminishing the stakes. Carol Brockman, Griffin's girlfriend, sought $250,000 from Lumia and his wife, Jeanne. She'll get $2,500, according to the settlement that awaits a judge's final approval.

Although the settlement, with cash to be paid by Lumia's home-insurance policy, also requires that the parties steer clear of one another, peace may not yet be returning to the valley.

"It was stupid. We shouldn't have settled," Brockman said in an interview this week. "I really regret having settled."

On that, Brockman and John Lumia agree. "It's been settled against my will," he said.

Just as settlement papers appear to signal an end to the dispute, Griffin was slapped with zoning violations for his goat pens that lack proper permits.

Lumia said he filed a complaint because Griffin has stashed a bunch of junk cars on what serves as a road.

The Lumias have let their lawyer, Thomas Bayham, do the talking. Summing it up when the lawsuit was still young, Bayham said the complaints "arise out of a scenario which is almost too bizarre to describe."

Shortly after purchasing the property next to the Lumias, who have lived outside Vail for more than 20 years, Griffin, Bayham said, began to exhibit "bizarre behavior including rock throwings, threats, intimidations, dressing as a woman, and general activities which were beyond the bounds of normal human civilization."

Griffin, who owns and operates a carpet-cleaning business in addition to working gas-station jobs, bought six acres on which he and Brockman hoped to build a home.

It didn't take long for Griffin, 42, to get crossways with Lumia, leading Griffin to go to court to get an order of protection against Lumia, 70.

Brockman believes it is rooted in the Lumias' dislike for Griffin's cross dressing.

"Yes, Colt is a cross dresser," Brockman said. "So what? That's just part of who he is."

It was a Wednesday--Feb. 9, 2000--and Griffin and Brockman did what they typically would do after she got off work from the child support division, which was then in the Pima County's Attorney's Office. They drove from the eastside home to the ranch property. Griffin, according to court testimony, wanted to show Brockman a piece of the property on which they would build. They drove down the dirt road and saw Lumia walking with his dog.

Accounts--to no one's surprise--differ. Jeanne Lumia said in an affidavit that Griffin reached through the open window of his truck, tapped Lumia and said, "I'm going to run over your dog,"

Lumia said he asked why Griffin drove on easements through some properties but refused to allow others to use his.

"Fuck you," Griffin responded, according to court papers.

According to Brockman's account, Griffin said: "I have a restraining order against you. I don't want any trouble."

But it was brewing.

John Lumia pulled his truck from his property to block the road as Griffin and Brockman began their slow--2- to-3 miles per hour--trip back to their property and traveled trailer. Jeanne Lumia fetched a high-power rifle with a scope and brought it to her husband.

Griffin and Brockman, who testified about her terror and about hiding in a wheel well, skirted past Lumia's truck by crowding against a fence. While frantically trying to call 911, Brockman then retrieved a battered old shotgun from the Griffin trailer.

The two men were armed, and that picture, with the darkness about to takeover the southern Rincon Valley, was interrupted by Paco, who dashed onto Griffin's property to chase goats. According to sworn testimony, Griffin yelled then fired a shot from the shotgun that Brockman thought was in such bad shape that it would explode. Paco let out a yelp then ducked in undulating terrain before making it home. He survived.

Brockman finally made a 911 connection, and when a deputy arrived, it was her lover who was going to get nailed.

Griffin was later busted in the county's first high-profile animal-abuse case. And he was charged with a weapons violation. Griffin, convicted on two counts of assault for an in-home brawl in Pinal County in 1992, had served a state prison sentence. Now the state and Brockman's then-boss, County Attorney Barbara LaWall, were saying that Griffin, as a felon, could not possess a firearm.

Sheriff's Det. Mike Duffey, who has spearheaded Southern Arizona's animal cruelty task force, arrested Griffin after Griffin showed up at sheriff headquarters for an interview. He was jailed, and on Nov. 3, 2000, was convicted on the weapons charge while winning acquittal on the animal-abuse charge.

Griffin began his sentence, 4 1/2 years, in state prison, where he required heart surgery, though he was not yet 40.

The criminal trial created more trouble for Brockman. LaWall and her attorneys told then-Judge Pro Tem Paul Banales that Brockman's work in their office did not cause a conflict sufficient to ship the case to a neighboring county attorney's office. Brockman was put on involuntary leave. And Andrew Diodati, the lawyer then representing Griffin, wrote that Brockman "was very anxious about having to testify for her domestic partner while her employer prosecutes him. She has stated that she feels pressure to alter the truthfulness of her testimony in order to protect her job."

She said she was "booted" from her volunteer work with county Victim Witness and only kept her job in child support because the department was shifted from county to state government.

Meanwhile, Brockman, skilled in legal research, filed the first in an avalanche of complaints in justice courts, and then Superior Court, against the Lumias. The Lumias responded with counter claims.

Brickman also dug out case law that the lawyers handling Griffin's criminal appeal could use to show that 1994 amendments to state law didn't make retroactive the gun prohibitions for felons.

The Arizona Court of Appeals in Tucson accepted the argument and vacated Griffin's conviction in June 2003. He was sprung from the state Department of Corrections after two years, seven months and 22 days--a count etched in Brockman's mind.

Brockman also urged Superior Court judges to preserve the evidence--the old shotgun and Lumia's rifle--for the pending civil case. But in a blunder involving three Superior Court judges, the shotgun Griffin used to shoot Paco was turned over to the LaWall's office, and then Duffey. It has not yet been returned, despite a curt explanation and apology from Judge Deborah Bernini and a windy explanation from Judge Michael Cruikshank. (Ruling on multiple motions for summary judgment in the civil case, Bernini was most interested in Brockman's claim of slander, saying a jury needed to determine if John Lumia's calling Brockman "a fucking slut" was "meant to be factual or simply opinion.")

Brockman said she hopes that she and Griffin can fulfill the dream of a Christmas wedding that was interrupted by his time in prison. The two met when he worked at an eastside gas station, where she stopped. They met again later when the cab and limousine company for which she drove fueled up at another station where Griffin worked.

"He flirted with me and then asked me out," Brockman recalled. "I said, 'This isn't going to work, I'm 19 years older than he is.' "

Their plans may not include the Vail ranch where, she marveled in court, the goats are like "pets. They are curious. They are friendly. They follow Colt around. I mean, I have picture of him walking around surrounded by this herd of goats."

It "doesn't seem right," Brockman told the Weekly, "that Colt would have to sell the property."

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