A homeowner confronts hikers on the Hawes Trail Loop in Mesa.
Elaine Norton, Arizona Republic
A former Mesa City Council member has apologized after a video of him yelling at a hiker on a trail behind his property surfaced on YouTube, garnering more than 80,000 views and counting.
In the video, Bill Jaffa appears to jump over the wall around the home he is constructing to a trail in the popular Hawes trail system in the Las Sendas area of northeast Mesa. He quickly moves toward a hiker taking the video from her phone. Jaffa cries out, “What does the trail say?” twice before dialing out to who he says is police.
The interaction only becomes more contentious, as the hiker tells Jaffa she is not on his property, while he tells a police dispatcher that the woman is being aggressive.
Jaffa, who served on the Mesa council from 1998 to 2002, was charged with disorderly conduct and false reporting to law enforcement because of the incident, according to Mesa police spokesman Nik Rasheta. The charges are misdemeanor.
He apologized for his behavior after The Arizona Republic asked for comment.
“I just got really, really upset,” he said. “I should have approached it differently, I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”
Jaffa and his wife said they are worried about the hazard and liability that part of the city-run trail poses. The city rerouted the trail at their request in February 2017, city spokesman Kevin Christopher said, out of safety concerns.
At no point was the trail on Jaffa’s property, Christopher wrote in an email.
Jaffa is not the first Valley property owner to worry about liability issues from hikers and bicyclists on trails. In 2015, property owners around Phoenix’s Echo Canyon Trail on Camelback Mountain sounded alarm bells over the difficult trail’s liability.
Hikers and mountain bikers who frequent the Mesa trails say Jaffa has become a disconcerting figure, yelling and lodging false trespassing complaints at them.
Popular trail becomes a battleground
The Hawes trail system is such an attraction for mountain bikers and hikers that it has spawned a private Facebook group with nearly 900 enthusiasts. At several points, the trail touches the Las Sendas community: A short stretch runs parallel behind Jaffa’s home and the other parcels of land along a largely undeveloped block.
Jaffa said he became concerned with the trail shortly after they started building the house, which includes a massive retaining wall next to the house, creating a steep fall hazard along the trail.
An attorney told the couple to do “everything” they could to minimize the liability, Jaffa said.
If someone were to fall along the house’s massive retaining wall, he said it could be a “terrible … if not life-threatening injury.” At some points, the wall is 30 feet high, he said.
Jaffa said not all hikers follow the rerouted trail.
“We want nothing more than for them to see how bad that hazard is,” Jaffa said. “You’ve got to scratch your head and ask why would they do that.”
That includes Elaine Norton, the woman taking video, who he said he spotted hiking the old trail.
Norton says she frequents the Hawes trail system.
“When the first fence went up, we just went around the fence,” she said.
Norton says she’s always respected Jaffa’s property line, but continued to use the old trail because it’s more challenging terrain.
“I’m a very careful person, you can see the property line stakes,” she said. “Hikers, for one thing, are very respectful of people’s property.”
She had heard warnings from other hikers about Jaffa, but wasn’t expecting an encounter as dramatic as the one she filmed on July 14.
“I just want to go home, it’s the end of my hike, I’m hot,” she said, referring to what was running through her head during the confrontation. “He was so aggressive.”
Being a smart hiker will help you to avoid dangerous situations.
‘It’s not who I am’
Norton said she is pressing harassment-related charges against Jaffa and that people have been hiking through the Hawes system “forever.”
“You can hike anywhere up there,” she said.
Rasheta said police have received two trespassing-related calls to Jaffa’s property in the past six months.
David Camp, in a Facebook comment, wrote that he had a similar interaction with Jaffa while walking along the trail.
“He was out of control, yelling, demanding that I stay until the cops got there,” he wrote. “I knew I had done nothing wrong.”
Jaffa says about 95 percent of hikers and bikers stay on the newly carved-out part of the trails. But the people who don’t have been a headache for him and his wife, worried about liability. Mesa will now move a fence to run parallel with Jaffa’s property line, Christopher said, to try tosolve the problems.
The uproar over the video has been difficult on him, Jaffa said.
“It just creates a huge stress level,” he said. “I can’t worry about this anymore, it’s affecting my health, it’s affecting me and my wife in different ways. We just want to join the community, enjoy my home.”
He doesn’t want to be known in the community for the video.
“This has just been horrible for me to have to think that I spoke the way I did, it’s not who I am,” he said. “This will never, ever happen again.”
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