Juror: Acquittal was not endorsement of Oregon occupiers


Associated Press

By ANDREW SELSKY, Associated Press1 hr ago
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2016, file photo, Ammon Bundy, right, shakes hand with a federal agent guarding the gate at the Burns Municipal Airport in Burns, Ore. The stunning acquittal of seven people who occupied a federal bird refuge in Oregon as part of a Western land dispute was a rejection of the prosecution’s conspiracy case, not an endorsement of the armed protest, a juror said Friday, Oct. 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler, File).© The Associated Press FILE – In this Jan. 22, 2016, file photo, Ammon Bundy, right, shakes hand with a federal agent guarding the gate at the Burns Municipal Airport in Burns, Ore. The stunning acquittal… PORTLAND, Ore. — The stunning acquittal of seven people who occupied a federal wildlife sanctuary in Oregon was a rejection of the prosecution’s conspiracy case, not an endorsement of the defendants’ actions in the armed protest, a juror said Friday.

But sympathizers who believe such resistance to the government is justified could feel emboldened by the verdict, which might invite more confrontations in a long-running dispute over Western lands.

Worried that Thursday’s verdict could lead to more land takeovers, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Friday urged all government employees to “remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity.” In a statement, she said she was “profoundly disappointed” in the jury’s decision.

William C. Fisher, an activist from Boise, Idaho, who once camped by a memorial to occupier LaVoy Finicum at the site where he was shot dead by police, predicted that the verdict would encourage others to act.

“I think a lot more people will be revolting, rebelling and standing up against what we see as a tyrannical government,” Fisher said in a telephone interview.

The 41-day takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge last January in remote eastern Oregon was part of a larger debate about the use of federal lands in the West. The militants led by Ammon Bundy, a small business owner from Arizona, wanted to hand the refuge over to local officials, saying the federal government should not have dominion over it.

The U.S. government owns nearly half of all land in the West, compared with only 4 percent in the other states, according to the Congressional Overview of Federal Land Ownership.

One of the jurors in the case asserted Friday that the panel was not endorsing militancy to resolve those issues.

The juror, identified only as Juror No. 4, wrote in an email to The Oregonian/OregonLive that the verdicts were a “statement” about the prosecution’s failure to prove a conspiracy charge “and not any form of affirmation of the defense’s various beliefs, actions or aspirations.”

Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy and five others were charged with conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs at the refuge.

One of the jurors questioned whether criminal trespassing charges could have been filed instead. But Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a former federal prosecutor, said trespassing is only a misdemeanor and prosecutors wanted felony convictions.

They had few other options to seek serious charges because the defendants never attacked anyone, Levenson said.

Rather than attempting to retake the land and risking a gunbattle, authorities took a cautious approach. They closed nearby roads and stayed miles away while urging the occupiers to abandon the land.

“This may be a case of no good deed goes unpunished,” Levenson said. “The upside of not confronting them was it was less likely there would be violence. The downside was it was less likely that they could use the assault charge.”

The standoff finally ended when the Bundys and other key figures were arrested in a Jan. 26 traffic stop outside the refuge. That’s when Finicum was killed. Most occupiers left after his death, but four holdouts remained until Feb. 11, when they surrendered following lengthy negotiations.

Bundy remains in jail because he still faces charges in Nevada stemming from an armed standoff at his father Cliven Bundy’s ranch two years ago.

Joel Hansen, Cliven Bundy’s attorney, said Friday that he thinks the jury in Oregon “saw through the lies of a government which is trying to prove these Bundy brothers and their compatriots were some kind of terrorists.”

In Hansen’s view and some others in the rural West, ownership of public land is a constitutional question that has not been settled.

“There is a seething anger among those who use the land because of the oppressive management of the land in the West,” Hansen said. “It’s the ranchers, the loggers, the miners, the Indians. It’s all part of tyrannical oppression. Their goal is to manage them out of business to get them off the land.”

The jury’s decision came on the same day that officers in riot gear evicted protesters from private land in the path of the Dakota Access oil pipeline in rural North Dakota. Authorities fired bean bags and pepper spray as they surrounded the camp of demonstrators, who have spent months embroiled in a dispute over Native American rights and the environmental effects of the project. At least 117 people were arrested.

The Oregon occupiers had chosen, perhaps inadvertently, a part of Oregon where locals and the feds had a recent history of working together. Few who live near the sanctuary welcomed the occupiers, most of whom were from out of state.

Not long before the takeover began on Jan. 2, locals and federal officials had determined the fate of large swaths of land, Harney County Judge Steve Grasty, the top local administrative official, said last summer in an interview.

The High Desert Partnership in Harney County, a group that includes the Bureau of Land Management, the Nature Conservancy and timber business owners, had been working quietly to determine land stewardship, which Jewell credited in her statement on Friday.


13 thoughts on “Juror: Acquittal was not endorsement of Oregon occupiers

  1. Occupation was unlawful, as was Bundy free use of federal land for grazing. Turnover or seizure of public lands is an unlawful absurdity as well as unpopular.

  2. They should have been convicted of the conspiracy charges, because they sure as hell “conspired” after they were there…they encouraged out of state militia groups to come join them. threatened federal employees and did everything in their power to shut down the refuge by force and intimidation for 40 some days. What bull. I hope the bundys get their well deserved jail time after their Nevada trial. And wildlife officials at refuges need to be armed.

  3. An armed takeover of a Federal building and keeping Federal workers in fear to return and visitors away for months isn’t illegal? How is that not considered a threat, and even terrorism? Tampering with and destroying Native artifacts isn’t illegal? I certainly hope they will have to answer for more charges.
    Photos show gov’t agents smiling and shaking hands with Bundy, and approving French vanilla coffee creamer and other supplies to make their stay at the refuge as comfortable as possible!!!!

    Meanwhile, violent confrontation is taking place in SD in defense of a stupid pipeline.

  4. Thanks Jim. This is very informative, unlike a lot of whats out there. I have found that it is also extremely helpful to read it all the way through, just like everything else, before forming an opinion!

    • I agree, reading through the whole article is quite informative. While expressing regret at the verdict, Jewell praises the failed efforts at compromise.
      The feds (Comey’s FBI?) decided to charge the Bundy Gang with forcibly preventing federal officials, i.e. the Malheur Refuge staff, from performing their duties. But what are their duties? The Refuge from its founding has welcomed armed gangs of hunters, is open to livestock grazing, and now, as Jewell points out, is potentially part of a grand compromise with the timber industry. So how do you prove that the Bundys were interfering with the mission of the refuge?
      I hope the feds have now learned how to put a case together. The Nevada case should be easier to prove, as the Bundy gang organized armed opposition to federal law enforcement.

  5. This is outrageous. The decision of the jury of peers think just like the Bundys, so how could they be found guilty of anything? These people believe their local sheriff to have the highest legal authority and not the state or certainly not the federal government. They should have everything taken away that was invented by society and facilitated by government. That means their guns, their technology, pots and pans. Let them see what it will be like to live in the wilderness for a month or two. Let them use flint to strike a fire and their bare hands to gather berries.

  6. This verdict is a complete shock. The federal government and many states consider unarmed, peaceful animal, wildlife and ecology activists, eco-terrorists. Yet, the real eco-terrorists – the sport killers, the industrial ‘farmers’, Monsanto, the timber, fossil fuel and mining corporations, and the federal welfare cattlemen like the gun-toting, violence threatening Bundys and their violent supporters – get away with serious crimes against innocent citizens and communities and nature. And this outrageous verdict comes with a supposed democrat in the White House. A horrible decision for our public lands, native ecology and wildlife and law abiding, good citizens who deserve a decent country.

  7. This does send a message to all the other livestock interests out there who feel the same way about “government interference,” on the public lands they are grazing to the bone. There are networks across the West, that are planning more of the same takeovers. This remains part of the former “Wise Use” campaign, to “open” public lands for privatization, including grazing, energy development–you name it.

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