Mariposa man whose rape charges were dismissed now suing accuser and county officials

The Mariposa County Government Center
The Mariposa County Government Center tmiller@mercedsunstar.com

A Mariposa man previously accused of raping a woman is now suing his accuser and several Mariposa County officials after his criminal case was dismissed.

Jerry Cox, a 50-year-old Mariposa rancher, was arrested in 2015 and charged with raping a woman he met on a dating website for farmers, Mariposa County officials said. The woman claimed Cox kept her on his ranch against her will and raped her.

Cox claimed the allegations were false, maintaining the relationship was consensual and that the accuser never was held against her will.

More than a year after he was jailed, investigators deemed Cox’s accuser not credible. The accuser didn’t disclose the alleged rape during a sworn deposition on an unrelated worker’s compensation case when she was generally asked if she had ever been raped, according to court documents.

About two months later, on Aug. 14, 2017, former Mariposa County District Attorney Thomas Cooke dismissed the rape case.

Following the dismissal, Cox’s accuser petitioned for a restraining order against Cox. But San Luis Obispo County Court Commissioner Erin M. Childs dismissed the claim, noting Cox seemed credible and his accuser didn’t, according to a transcript of a July 26 hearing.

However, the accuser’s attorney, David Vogel, said much of the evidence that would have been available in a criminal case against Cox wasn’t available in the restraining order case, limiting his client’s ability to mount a successful case against Cox.

“In the civil hearing we had to do it without all the evidence,” Vogel said, declining to go into detail about his client’s case.

But Cox’s accuser did win attorney fees after Cox filed a subsequent lawsuit against her. She filed a successful anti-SLAPP motion, a legal maneuver over meritless claims against speech protected by the First Amendment. The decision quashed Cox’s lawsuit and ordered him to pay his accuser’s legal fees. But his attorney, Marc Angelucci, said he plans to appeal.

Mariposa County District Attorney Walter Wall said he couldn’t comment on whether Cox’s rape case arrest or the dismissal of charges was justified because it happened before he was elected. But he said Cox filed a complaint with the State Bar of California against former Deputy District Attorney Gina Florick, who prosecuted the case.

An investigation cleared Florick of any wrongdoing, Wall said.

Legal fight for the ranch

According to Cox’s attorney, as a result of the years-long fight against the accusations, Cox lost his business and ranch to receivership after Mariposa County officials issued several zoning, building and permit code violations. He claims the county’s actions prevented him from resolving the issues.

Angelucci said that, before the issues started, Cox had improved his property in part by building log cabins himself and added free-roaming livestock, including bison, to the land. The ranch became a desirable spot, he said, leading some people to stay on the ranch and even help Cox make improvements.

But then came an inspection and notice and order to repair or abate 101 property and health code violations. The violations included fire hazards, sanitation issues, zoning violations, structural hazards, agritourism violations and unauthorized rental operations.

Cox was willing to fix some of the issues, Angelucci said. But actions by the county were unreasonable.

“Now, Jerry is on food stamps,” Angelucci said, adding that Cox recently was allowed back onto his property, but returned to a dilapidated ranch that was neglected. Livestock on the property died and Cox didn’t have the funds to rehabilitate the ranch, Angelucci said.

In a federal lawsuit filed in Fresno, Cox is claiming the dismissed rape case led to Mariposa County officials conspiring to seize Bison Creek Ranch, his sprawling property of more than 400 acres, southwest of Yosemite National Park.

The lawsuit names as defendants Cox’s accuser, law enforcement, Mariposa County officials and the receivership that seized his property. It claims the Mariposa County sheriff’s investigators failed to preserve and collect evidence that could have exonerated him from the rape claim.

The lawsuit states the building and health code violations that sparked seizure of his property were based on complaints that referenced his rape case. Also, it states the receivership didn’t fairly estimate the cost of fixing the violations, which totaled more than $250,000, and made several false claims resulting in seizure and plans to sell the property.

“The full extent harm to (Cox) is believed to be in excess of $150 million,” the complaint states.

County officials strongly rejected the claims in Cox’s lawsuit.

“Mr. Cox’s lawsuit is yet another effort by Mr. Cox to avoid responsibility for many years of flagrantly violating the law, refusing to comply with rulings from Superior Court and even Appellate Court judges, and then blaming others for his actions,” Mariposa officials said in a statement to the Sun-Star.

Cox’s land was zoned for agriculture use, allowing Cox to pay less in property taxes, but he used the property to make money off short-term rentals and events, according to court documents. Also, the county claims officials tried to get Cox to comply with the law for nine years.

Multiple inspections led to the discovery of more than 100 state and county code violations, according to court documents, including having people living next to livestock in a barn on the brink of collapse. One building was partially held up by a metal jack, officials said.

The lawsuit also named Mark Adams, the court-appointed receiver who seized the property and directed improvements.

“The allegations in the lawsuit are categorically false,” Adams said to the Sun-Star.

According to receivership court documents, the cost of the repairs and maintenance, court and legal fees, accounting and bank fees, and security costs totaled about $300,000. About $224,000 is owed to a lender, while Adams floated $48,000 of his personal funds to fix the property, a move he said was very rare.

Cox has paid about $30,000 for the work, according to a profit and loss statement up through July 31.

Adams said he gave Cox multiple chances to pay for the improvements to the property, including offering him some of the proceeds of the sale of the land to a prospective buyer because he believed Cox couldn’t afford the work done to his property.

But Cox turned that down, instead demanding he keep the land and receive $2.4 million from the county and receivership for the financial burden they caused him, according to emails submitted with court documents.

Adams responded to the lawsuit with an anti-SLAPP motion of his own to dismiss the lawsuit, according to court documents. A hearing on the motion is set for Oct. 11.