Judge agrees refuge occupation leaders, others must stay in jail
A federal judge on Friday said five of the militants who occupied Malheur National Wildife Refuge were unsafe to release, including leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy.
Two others were granted release in the detention hearing, but prosecutors intend to appeal. Hearings for two others will be held next week, while one prominent figure, self-styled member of the media Peter Santilli, will receive a determination by Monday.
U.S. District Court Judge Stacie Beckerman's decisions came despite sometimes impassioned arguments by defense lawyers, some of whom likened their clients' actions to democratic protests such as the Boston Tea Party and civil rights actions. One quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic letter from a Birmingham jail in 1963.
"I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law," quoted Andrew Kohlmetz, lawyer for Jason Patrick.
Similarly, Lisa Hay, a federal public defender representing Ryan Payne, said, "There are times when radical notions gain acceptance by being heard in a courtroom."
Federal prosecutors initially recommended all 11 people who took part in the nearly four-week occupation of a Harney County wildlife refuge should stay in jail.
They include 40-year-old Ammon Bundy, who de facto leader of the occupation, and his brother, 43-year-old Ryan Bundy, and a handful of others who were arrested during a Jan. 26 stop on Highway 395 about 20 miles north of Burns or taken into custody a day later at checkpoints near the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
They all are part of a group that called itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, part of the sovereign citizen patriot movement, which rejects most federal authority as unconstitutional. Nearly everyone involved in the occupation was armed with semi-automatic rifles or handguns, which they said were for their protection in case law enforcement attacked the compound.
They are being held at the Multnomah County Detention Center in Portland.
Four holdouts are still occupying part of the wildlife refuge property, refusing to leave until federal officials agree to let them avoid any charges for their actions. One of the four faces arrest if he leaves, and the others have decided to stay until the issue is resolved through negotiations with FBI agents.
The Bundy brothers, Brian Cavalier, Shawna Cox, Ryan Payne and Joseph OShaughnessy were arrested Tuesday, Jan. 26, by FBI agents and Oregon State Police troopers as they traveled north to a community meeting in John Day. During that arrest, 54-year-old Robert LaVoy Finicum was shot to death as he jumped out of his truck and reached into his coat, where FBI agents said he was carrying a loaded 9mm semi-automatic handgun.
Santilli, an Internet radio talk show host who broadcast nearly every day from the occupation in Burns, was taken into custody Tuesday evening, Jan. 26, while trying to persuade law enforcement officers to allow a convoy to take women and children out of the wildlife refuge compound 30 miles south of Burns.
Patrick of Bonaire, Ga., Duane Leo Ehmer of Irrigon and Dylan Wade Anderson of Provo, Utah, were arrested Wednesday, Jan. 27. Each faces a charge of conspiracy to impede federal officers, a felony.
Jon Ritzheimer, one of the occupations leaders, had returned to his home in suburban Phoenix, Ariz., and turned himself in to police. He is facing the same conspiracy charges in Arizonas federal court.
The defendants appeared Friday afternoon in Portlands U.S. District Court, where their attorneys argued that they should be released pending trial. During the hearing, federal prosecutors argued that each of the defendants was determined to reject federal authority, and one, Ammon Bundy, felt federal courts would not provide justice in the case.
The underlying facts of the alleged conspiracy pose unique issues that weigh in favor of detaining all defendants, wrote prosecutors Billy J. Williams, Ethan D. Knight and Geoffrey A. Barrow, in court documents filed Friday afternoon. By its very nature, this offense demonstrates a remarkable inability on the part of all charged defendants to follow the law, and thus comply with the terms of court-ordered supervision. In this case, all defendants deliberately and publicly disregarded repeated orders, requests, and pressure to obey the law over a sustained period of time. They did so in manner that endangered, and continues to endanger, the residents of Harney County, Oregon.
Critically, the alleged crime was not born out of impulse it was deliberate and designed to undermine authority at every stage. As a result, each defendant appears before this court having already demonstrated that no condition or combination of conditions could reasonably assure their appearance or the safety of the community.
Prosecutors argued that few of the defendants have ties to Oregon and would not likely return for trial if released. They pointed out that Ammon Bundy posted on social media comments critical of federal courts and federal officials, especially in the case of Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven Hammond, two Harney County ranchers now serving five years in federal prison for setting fire to federal land.
In mid-August, Bundy posted on a Facebook page a statement: There is no justice in a federal court. The feds have used the courts to take rights not protect them.
His danger to the community is tied directly to his role in the offense, prosecutors wrote. As the armed groups unrepentant leader, he has consistently and publicly expressed support for an armed occupation that endangered, and continues to endanger, many people.
In court, his attorney, Lissa Casey, said violence was not Bundy's intent. "It is not a violent overthrow of the government that he is advocating."
Proceedings will continue next week, including appeals of Beckerman's decisions, additional detention hearings, and a more detailed presentation of evidence by the federal government.