First arrest in Harney County standoff leads to stolen federal vehicles
UPDATE: Man in custody faced off against BLM agents near Galice gold mine
Oregon State Police arrested a 62-year-old man who was driving a stolen Malheur National Wildlife Refuge vehicle in Burns Friday afternoon.
State police said Kenneth W. Medenbach of Crescent, Ore., was taken into custody at about noon Jan. 15, at a Safeway store in Burns. Medenbach was held for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
An FBI spokeswoman said a van and a truck were recovered by law enforcement.
It was the first arrest of a person associated with the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge compound about 30 miles south of Burns.
Medenbach is part of the militant group holed up at the wildlife refuge buildings for the past 13 days. A group of armed militants took control of the refuge complex Jan. 2, demanding that refuge land, and other federally owned property in the county, be turned over to local ranchers. They also demand the release of Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond, Harney County ranchers who reported to a federal prison Jan. 4 to serve five-year sentences for illegally burning federal grazing land.
Law enforcement agencies dealing with the standoff have kept a low profile and have not moved against the armed group at the refuge. FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich-Williams said Medenbach's arrest was "an appropriate action to take" during the standoff.
'I'll wind up in jail'
This isnt the first time Medenbach has had a run-in with federal officials. From May to November 2015, Medenbach lived in a small cabin he built on Bureau of Land Management property near the Sugar Pine Mine on Peavine Road in the Southern Oregon town of Galice.
He was there to protest BLM demands that owners of the aging gold mine shut down their operation. The owners refused, and a standoff began between BLM officials and armed men from Oregon Oath Keepers chapters, much like the situation at the wildlife refuge.
Although BLM ordered Medenbach to leave the cabin and the land near the mine in July 2015, he was not forced off the site until November.
Medenbach faces two charges in federal court for unlawful camping and unlawful occupancy of the BLM property. He was released from federal custody Nov. 16 and told to not violate any state or federal laws, and to never return to the Galice property.
In a Facebook message to supporters of the mine operators, Medenbach said he expected to go to jail for his belief that BLM and the federal government had no jurisdiction over the mine property.
Im going to challenge the courts jurisdiction and Im sure Ill wind up in jail, Medenbach wrote in mid-November. Ive been there before. The price of freedom! If anyone has time, join me, I could use the support, to deter this oppressive government oligarchy!
In a 29-page motion filed as part of his federal case, Medenbach claimed he and other Oregonians had no obligation to comply with BLM rules because they were unconstitutional. The court rejected his motion.
Grateful for quick action
Law enforcement officers recovered two vehicles stolen from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported the vehicles stolen to the Harney County Sheriff's Office.
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is grateful for the quick actions from law enforcement," said USFWS spokeswoman Megan Nagel. "We will continue to work with law enforcement to recover vehicles bought and paid for by the American people to care for their national wildlife refuge."
The arrest was aided by state troopers and deputies from several sheriff's offices around the state who were in the county to assist Harney County Sheriff David M. Ward.