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Death reignites Petaluma neighbors' feud

The December death of a man at a large family compound west of Petaluma has reignited a feud among neighbors and sparked further calls for Sonoma County code enforcement to investigate the sprawling site.

On Dec. 29, Troy Austin, 52, of Petaluma was found dead inside one of several campers on the Sampson compound, a group of several family-owned parcels on Liberty Road, near Skillman Lane. The coroner's office is investigating, but the death is not considered suspicious, according to the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.

The Sampson family has a long history with Sonoma County authorities, including numerous arrests and political battles.

In the 1970s, the late patriarch, Howard Sampson, a lay minister who founded the Fields of the Wood Church, was for a time a leader in the Posse Comitatus, a far-right movement. The self-appointed group of citizens opposed what they believed were abuses among law enforcement and government officials.

The family made headlines off and on for three decades in Sonoma County as they ran for public office, had run-ins with law enforcement, proposed a ballot initiative for prayer in public schools and sought to recall judges and prosecutors who they claimed had abused their powers.

One of Howard Sampson's identical twin sons, Floyd Garfield Sampson, ran for Congress in 1986 as a Republican. His twin, Tony; mother, Rose; and other family members still live on the property, which is fenced, chained shut and posted with no trespassing signs.

Sonoma County sheriff's deputies investigated a complaint last year that residents from the Sampson property were dumping buckets of human feces and used tampons in a drainage ditch.

Deputy Troy Newton recorded filthy conditions in a February report: "I saw raw garbage in the drainage canal, including alcoholic beverage containers (bottles/cans), shoes, tires, a mailbox, golf balls, wood/plastics and quart containers of motor oil."

The report said there were several pollutants including "infectious wastes, solid wastes, hazardous material and waste" that likely were running into Kizer and Wiggins creeks.

Newton also said he saw what appeared to be zoning violations, illegal housing units and numerous junk vehicles on the property.


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