A former Santa Rosa man reversed course Thursday after previously insisting he did not break the law when he crossed October wildfire barricades to visit his mother’s destroyed Fountaingrove house.
Evan Neumann, 45, of Mill Valley, pleaded no contest to illegally entering a disaster zone, a misdemeanor, in a plea bargain with prosecutors carrying two years’ probation and 40 hours of community service.
Neumann’s change of heart came after he vowed last week to take his case to trial. He accused police and prosecutors of a “perversion of justice” for arresting him Oct. 17 as he walked with his brother, Mark Neumann, 32, of Santa Rosa, on Parker Hill Road. Jury selection was scheduled for Friday.
It also followed a decision Thursday by prosecutors to sweeten settlement terms accepted by Mark Neumann that would be extended to his older brother. Last week, Mark Neumann took a deal carrying three years’ probation and 180 hours of community service.
The brothers claimed they were trying to get to their mother’s Lyon Court house, destroyed nine days earlier, to hunt for valuables before the onset of expected rains.
Thinking it would be allowed, they stepped around a National Guard barricade at Leete Avenue and walked up Parker Hill Road when they were surrounded by multiple patrol cars and arrested.
The charge carried a maximum 6 months in jail.
Police said the brothers were warned to stay out of the area but went anyway. In many cases, gas had not yet been turned off and there were potential hazards, a police sergeant said.
“I understand people were frustrated that they couldn’t get to their properties,” Sgt. David Linscomb said in a Jan. 10 Press Democrat story. “At the same time, the area was deemed unsafe for entry. We have to enforce the law. If people won’t abide, it leaves us no choice.”
The area was cleared for residents to return five days later.
The Neumanns’ plight touched off a flurry of support on social media, where many agreed the arrests were unwarranted in the face of such devastation and some expressed their own unhappiness at having to wait while looters were getting in.
Still others argued the brothers should have waited.
The Neumanns are sons of the late Santa Rosa hotelier Claus Neumann, who ran the iconic Los Robles Lodge on Cleveland Avenue and the Hotel La Rose in Railroad Square. He died in 2011, leaving his widow the Fountaingrove house they bought in the early 1990s.
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ppayne.