A man known as “River Dave” among New Hampshire residents has been jailed for squatting on private land for nearly three decades.
David Lidstone, 81, has lived in a small cabin he built, adorned with its own solar panels, along the Merrimack River in Canterbury, New Hampshire, for 27 years.
But issues arose after the owners of the private property ordered for “River Dave”, as he was known by boaters and kayakers, to leave the area and for his cabin to be torn down.
Mr Lidstone has been jailed since 15 July on a civil contempt sanction.
“You came with your guns, you arrested me, brought me in here, you’ve got all my possessions. You keep ’em,” he told a judge at a hearing Wednesday. “I’ll sit here with your uniform on until I rot, sir.”
A judge told Mr Lidstone at the hearing that he could meet with the Vermont man who owned the property if he wanted to resolve the case.
“Unless you say you’ll live by the judgement as long as that injunction is in place. If you say that, any day, you hold the key. Tell that to a judge, and they’ll try to get you in the next day and get you out,” Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Andrew R Schulman said.
Jodie Gedeon, an avid kayaker who has known Mr Lidstone for about 20 years, has organised a petition drive that would collect money to cover property taxes, all in an effort to keep the man in his cabin.
“He’s just a really, really, big caring guy, and just chooses to live off the grid,” she told the Associated Press. “It really is about humanity, it really is about compassion, empathy … he’s not hurting anybody.”
The judge agreed that Mr Lidstone was not hurting anyone with how he chose to live, but the law was not on his side.
“You’re doing your own thing in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state, so there’s a lot of sympathy to you for that,” Judge Schulman said. “But there’s a lot of weight on the other side of the balance sheet, and not just about what the (landowner) wants to do with the land, but the weight I feel to uphold the judgment of the court and the rule of law.”
Ms Gedeon and other supporters brought the issue to the town meeting, but board members said that the town had no position on the matter.
The battle over the spot of land first started in 2015.
Mr Lidstone said he was given verbal, but not written, confirmation from the owner that he would be allowed to remain on the property for years. But the current owner, Leonard Giles, said he wasn’t aware of the man living on the property until 2015.
A judge first issued an order for the man to leave his property in 2017, but Mr Lidstone resisted. He was then arrested in July after both sides failed to reach an agreement.
Another hearing was scheduled for next week on the issue.
Until then, Mr Lidstone would remain in jail unless he either agreed to leave his cabin, allowed for the property owner to demolish the cabin, or 30 days passed since he was jailed, according to the Associated Press.