3 Mule nomad arrested in Paso Robles


After ordering John Sears to stop walking with his mules on Nacimiento Lake Drive near Paso Robles, on Thursday afternoon a CHP officer arrested the 72-year-old esteemed nomad for resisting arrest and placed his mules into San Luis Obispo County Animal Services custody.

Sears, who goes by Mule, has wandered California with his mules since 2003. They walk by day and stop at night to sleep primarily in public parks or in grassy areas near roadways. His mules, Little Girl and Ethel, graze on vegetation and drink the water they come across along the way.

And while thousands of people follow Sear’s 3 Mules blog, with many stopping to shoot a photo with the nomads, law enforcement officers are not always as accommodating.

On Jan. 23, after a CHP officer ordered Sears to stop walking on Nacimiento Lake Drive, the officer returned and arrested the nomad for resisting arrest, and booked him into SLO County Jail with his bail set at $5,000.

Sears contends state law permits him to walk with his mules on the road, and that he did not resist arrest.

A GoFundMe page raised $500, and Sears bailed out of jail and collected his mules from county animal services. A local with a horse trailer then transported Sears to Templeton to pick up his belongings from the CHP office.

Sears is scheduled to appear in court on March 23.

3 Mules blog post:

“January 22, 2020, after walking 15.3 miles from Pleyto and past Lake Nacimiento, we stopped here along G14 (Lake Nacimiento Road) to spend the night. We have walked this scenic back road route repeatedly in past years.

“On Thursday morning, I awoke, fixed breakfast and packed up the mules. We got back onto G14 heading towards Paso Robles and walked approximately three hours when a California Highway Patrol (CHP) cruiser pulled up along side us. He said he had been getting calls that we were walking on the road. He asked me to do him a favor and not walk on the road.

“My reply was that the Mules have the right to walk on the road. We are not breaking any laws and we will continue to do so for the simple reason that we have the right to. There was no alternative side road or trail along G14 to walk to Paso Robles. At that point he left.

“We continued walking 10 to 15 minutes when the CHP officer returned with another CHP officer in another cruiser. He stopped in front of us, got out of his cruiser and told us that we could not walk on the road. We reasserted our right to walk on the road.

“It was obvious if you looked at the road, there was nowhere else to walk; we were walking as far to the edge as possible. Little Girl who I was leading was walking right abreast of me and Little Ethel was abreast of Little Girl. Little Ethel was the one furthest in the road.

“There was plenty of room for a passing motorist, slowing his or her automobile (which is required by California law when approaching other legal users – cyclists, equestrians, pedestrians – of the public thoroughfare) to an appropriate speed to safely pass. Motorists on G14 were doing so, slowing down and passing safely with no problem.

“The officer continued to assert that we could not walk on the road. We continued to assert we had the right to walk on the road and that we could not sprout wings to go anywhere else as we were landlocked and there was no alternative way to walk out of where we were standing. We went back and forth like that for a good period of time.

“Officer trying to convince us that we had no right to walk on the road which was ludicrous. The California Driver’s Handbook clearly states that equestrians have the right to use the public thoroughfare.

“We bantered back and forth for a good period of time when the officer finally said if I come back again you will be arrested and your animals will be impounded. He then left with his fellow officer.

“Well now what were we to do? There was no side roads to take off on. There was nothing but G14. There was no cell phone service for us to call or post for trailer assistance. The officer offered no alternative means for which we could safely proceed to our destination of Paso Robles. We had no choice but to stand there on the side of the road for hell to freeze over or to continue to walk to Paso Robles on G14. So we had to do just that, because again, the mules and myself do not have wings.

“After walking 10 minutes further down the road, the officer was stationed with his partner on a side road to our left. I do not know the name of this side road or if it was an alternative road to get to Paso Robles.

“The officer got out of his cruiser, approached me, stepped in front of me and said I was under arrest. He then took the lead rope from my hand and handed the lead rope to the other officer who took Little Girl and Little Ethel to the other side of the road and told me I was under arrest. He asked me to put my hand behind my back, which I did. Then he hand cuffed me, took me to his cruiser, opened the door, and asked me to get inside, which I did.  I offered absolutely no resistance.

“We have now been charged with obstruction. We were not charged for walking on the highway because we had every right to be walking on the highway. We have been charged with obstruction resisting arrest. I did not resist arrest.

“Little Girl and Little Ethel were taken to San Luis Obispo Animal Services, while I was taken to San Luis Obispo County Jail where I was booked around 3pm and charged with resisting arrest under California Penal Code Section 148(a) PC, a broadly defined criminal offense that makes it illegal to intentionally resist, delay or obstruct a law enforcement officer.”

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6 Comments about “3 Mule nomad arrested in Paso Robles”

  1. joe ditt says:

    Used to be 3 mules. Met them in Sunnyvale 5 years ago. We brought carrots and apples for the mules. The man was very nice. Not sure what he was doing that caused him to be arrested. I have looked for him coming through Sunnyvale again so they can spend the evening at our house as they head onward. He is harmless. They are harmless. They cause no conflicts. Joe

  2. Suzanne says:

    I think the California Highway Patrol was SO WRONG on this charge and I hope this man and his 2 mules will be exonerated of his charges. This was truly a Misjustice for this poor man & his mules. What HARM were they actually doing? NONE! There is a shoulder on this road as I seen in the pictures. It’s a shame that this man was arrested for such ludicrous charges. Shame on you CHP and pick on your States crazy DRIVERS there, instead of this man and his mules. So glad I do NOT live in California!!!

  3. Maven says:

    This guy hates cops and does this to make them look bad. They can’t create a hazard in the middle of blind curves, the officer told him to stay off the road, he didn’t, so he got arrested for failing to obey a lawful order! About time. And of course, the CCN/CCT posters jump on the anti-cop bandwagon after hearing the story from only the side of the cop-hater.

  4. CVC 21050 states “Every person riding or driving an animal upon a highway has all of the rights and duties of a vehicle driver… except those provisions which by their very nature can have no application.”

    The tricky part here is that the law describes “riding” and “driving.” They don’t say anything about leading. However, historically “driving” includes other forms of controlled movement of animals such as driving sheep or cattle. One could thus argue that for legislative intent, leading would also apply as it is simply another means for direct control of livestock. So the CHP used a relatively vaguely defined code (I believe that PC148 was used) to charge Sears with obstructing the officers in their duties because he did not remove his animals from the roadway when instructed to do so.

    I think the arguments that are going likely to play out here are that drivers and equestrians have have an obligation to obey the lawful orders of law enforcement officers. Officers, of course, have the authority to direct traffic. So the issue here may well be that the officers are going to claim that they directed Sears to become less of a traffic hazard (a pretty vague assertion) and Sears’ point will likely be that he was in compliance with CVC 21050 and there was no practical means to comply the officers’ contravening orders. (For example, an officer can’t arrest you because you refused to drive your car into a ditch when directed to do so.)

    On the other hand, if Sears “operated” his mules with “reckless disregard,” it might be another matter, but he wasn’t charged along those lines.

    Sometimes some CHP officers get a little carried away. I was in the fire service for 3 decades and even though we typically had each other’s backs, as a line Captain I had to have a couple of serious chats with the local Watch Commander when his officers seriously stepped over the line. Also over the years I discovered that a lot of officers are pretty sharp when it comes to motor vehicles, but many are somewhat clueless when it comes to livestock because those are not situations for which they are familiar.

    I’d be willing to bet that Sears beats this one.

  5. rjakelian says:

    It is sad if he is telling the truth… It would seem logical he would know the rules regarding traveling with his mules. It’s sad thinking officers of law are not telling the truth. Hope there’s a just ending to this story.

  6. Shame on the CHP! It is well-established law that horses and other four-legged domestic beasts of burden can use the highways! Hell, they came before the automobile! I know this man from seeing him on the road and know he is a decent, law-abiding soul with docile mules. The CHP here needs to be schooled in the law and public relations. They are just wrong!

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