Ammon Bundy and 6 others associated with Oregon federal building takeover arrested; shots fired, one killed

Ryan and Ammon Bundy and five others associated with the armed seizure of the Malheur National Wildlife refuge on January 2 were arrested late Tuesday afternoon in Oregon. The FBI reported that shots were fired and one person is deceased.

In addition to the six arrests and one fatality in Oregon, at 8:30 p.m. PST Tuesday Jon Eric Ritzheimer, age 32, was arrested in Arizona on a federal charge related to the armed occupation. Mr. Ritzheimer turned himself in to the Peoria, Arizona, Police Department. The arrest was without incident.

The seizure of the Refuge was triggered by the resentencing of Dwight Hammond, Jr., and his son, Steven Hammond who set fires on Bureau of Land Management property not far from the Wildlife Refuge. It escalated into demands that public lands be turned over to states, individuals, or corporations.

Below is the press release from the Portland FBI office:

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“At approximately 6:30 p.m. (PST), the FBI arrested Peter Santilli, age 50, of Cincinnati, Ohio, in Burns, Oregon. He faces the same federal felony charge as the individuals listed below. The arrest was without incident.

At approximately 4:25 p.m. (PST) on Tuesday, January 26, 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Oregon State Police (OSP) began an enforcement action to bring into custody a number of individuals associated with the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. During that arrest, there were shots fired.

One individual who was a subject of a federal probable cause arrest is deceased. We will not be releasing any information about that person pending identification by the medical examiner’s office.

One individual suffered non-life threatening injuries and was transported to a local hospital for treatment. He was arrested and is currently in custody.

The arrested individuals include:

  • Ammon Edward Bundy, age 40, of Emmett, Idaho
  • Ryan C. Bundy, age 43, of Bunkerville, Nevada
  • Brian Cavalier, age 44, of Bunkerville, Nevada
  • Shawna Cox, age 59, Kanab, Utah
  • Ryan Waylen Payne, age 32, of Anaconda, Montana

These probable cause arrests occurred along Highway 395.

In a separate event in Burns, Oregon, at approximately 5:50 p.m., Oregon State Police arrested the following individual:

  • Joseph Donald O’Shaughnessy, age 45, Cottonwood, Arizona

All of the named defendants face a federal felony charge of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 372.

We continue to work with Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward and his deputies; Oregon State Police; and the United States Attorney’s Office to address any further outstanding issues. As the investigation is ongoing, we cannot comment further at this time.

All defendants should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

The timeline for the Oregon rancher-arsonists

Malheur Refuge sign
Photo by Judith Bell

With the break-in and occupation by armed protesters of the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon grabbing national attention it’s a good time to take a detailed look at what actually happened over the last 22 years that led up to this incident.

Some of the protesters appearing in front of news cameras repeatedly refer to the arrest, convictions, and sentencing of Dwight Hammond, Jr., and his son, Steven Hammond who set fires on Bureau of Land Management property not far from the Wildlife Refuge.

Dwight and Steven Hammond.
Dwight and Steven Hammond.

In addition to raising cattle on their own property, the Hammonds paid a small fee for their cattle to graze on BLM land. In 2015 the rate was $1.69 per animal per month. There is no charge for calves. If they were paying open market rates instead of taxpayer subsidized rates it would cost them about 12 times as much.

There is a lot of misinformation being thrown around about why or if the Hammonds lit fires on public land. An example occurred on January 4 when CNN reporter Paul Vercammen mischaracterized the crimes committed by the two ranchers that triggered the protests and federal property take over. Mr. Vercammen, in explaining what led to the occupation, described the actions of the Hammonds as “arson on their own property”, when in fact on at least two occasions they illegally set fires on public land administered by the BLM.

Below is the timeline that we have developed from court documents, information provided by U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson Gerri Badden, and other sources provided by some of our loyal readers.

You will find that on two occasions, in 2001 and 2006, the Hammonds set fires that endangered wildland firefighters, forcing them to take evasive action when their safety was compromised. In one case they conscripted a 13-year old to help ignite a fire who was too successful. He found himself surrounded by flames and fearing for his life. A group of three hunters, whose location was known to the Hammonds, were also threatened by one of the fires and had to hurriedly evacuate the area without having time to pack up the equipment at their campsite. The Hammonds also had several previous run-ins with the legal system that until now have not been general knowledge.

The Timeline

1994, August 5 — Dwight and Steven Hammond were arrested and spent two nights in custody. Federal employees of the Malheur National Wildlife refuge were attempting to build a fence on refuge property to keep the Hammonds’ cattle from trespassing on federal land. (There is some dispute about this exact date, but court records show that it occurred on August 5, 1994.)

From High Country News:

On the day the fence was to be built, the crew and refuge officials arrived to find Hammond had parked his Caterpillar scraper squarely on the boundary line and disabled it, removing the battery and draining fuel lines. When a tow truck arrived to move it, Dwight Hammond showed up, leaped to the controls of the scraper and hit a lever that lowered the bucket, narrowly missing another special agent. Meanwhile, said [Special Agent Earl M.] Kisler, Steve Hammond shouted obscenities at federal officials. Neither Hammond resisted arrest.

The original charge was a felony, “Forcibly impede, intimidate and interfere with federal officers engaged in the performance of their official duties”.

The High Country News reported that many sources applied a great deal of pressure on the BLM and the Secretary of the Interior, protesting the arrests. Some employees received phone calls and death threats at their homes.

1994, August 15 — The charges were reduced to a misdemeanor for both Steven and Dwight Hammond, to “Interfering with Government Employees and Private Parties”.

1997, July 16 the “Interfering” cases were dismissed by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

1999 — Steven was arrested and convicted for interfering with lawful users of public lands.  On Oct. 9, 1999, he interfered with a lawful hunt being conducted by a hunting guide and his party.  On March 9, 2000, he was sentenced to 3 years of probation.

2001, September 30 — Hardie-Hammond Fire.

According to testimony from a commercial hunting guide, his two clients, and Dusty Hammond the grandson to Dwight Hammond and nephew to Steven Hammond, their family and friends were hunting when shots were fired from the group into a herd of deer on BLM land. The guide said four bucks were crippled, but the Hammond hunting party did not track or collect any deer.

Later, Steven, with Dwight at his side, handed out boxes of matches to everyone in the party including 13-year old Dusty. Their instructions were to “light up the whole country on fire”. They went off in different directions and began igniting fires, but Dusty was by himself, following a path pointed out by Steven. He was at first unsuccessful in getting the vegetation to ignite, but after Steven showed him how to use several of the “strike anywhere” matches together, he was creating eight to ten-foot flames which at one point surrounded and entrapped him causing him to fear for his life —  “I thought I was going to get burned up”, he said. The fires were lit along the line between their property and public land, and spread onto public land.

Gerri Badden, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said the motive for setting the fires was to cover up the illegal slaughter of the deer which was witnessed by the hunting guide, the guide’s two hunters, and was affirmed by Dusty.

Two hours after igniting the fires Steven called the BLM to report that they were going to burn invasive species.

The hunting guide saw that the fire was moving toward their camp and was concerned about his safety and that of his two clients from Utah. The three of them evacuated from the area without even taking the time to break down and remove their equipment at the camp. As they drove away they were able to see the flames of the fire in the area they had left. Testimony in the trial indicated that the Hammonds were aware of the location of the guide and his clients before lighting the fires since they flew their airplane over the area earlier that morning.

Later in the day Dwight and Steven took to the sky again in their airplane to examine the burnt area, telling Dusty they were going to check to see if the fire got rid of the juniper, which is an invasive species that robs water from grasses grazed by cattle.

Dusty said that when the Hammond hunting party returned to the house after setting the fires, “Dwight told me to keep my mouth shut, that nobody needed to know about the fire”. Eight years later 21-year old Dusty told investigators why he waited so long to speak up about the arson, saying that if Steven heard he provided information he would come to Dusty’s front door and kill him. 

The writers of the sentencing report said the setting of the fires created a “conscious or reckless risk of death or serious bodily injury” to individuals including Dusty Hammond. The fires burned 139 acres of federal land.

Continue reading “The timeline for the Oregon rancher-arsonists”

CNN reporter mischaracterizes the arson crimes of Oregon ranchers

CNN Oregon occupation report
CNN reporter Paul Vercammen (on the right) reports from the federal building break-in and occupation in Oregon, 12:21 p.m. PST, January 4, 2015. Screen grab from CNN.

In a live report today at 12:21 p.m. PST from the scene of the federal building break in and armed occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, CNN reporter Paul Vercammen mischaracterized the crimes committed by the two ranchers that triggered the protests and federal property take over. Mr. Vercammen, in explaining what led to the occupation, described the actions of Dwight Hammond, Jr., and his son, Steven Hammond:

[the protesters occupying the buildings] all do agree that the Hammonds should not be facing these indictment charges, going to prison again for arson on their own property.

First, they are not facing “indictment charges”. The two were convicted in federal court and given sentences well below the mandatory minimum sentence required by U.S. law. The U.S. Attorney appealed the sentences, since they did not conform to federal sentencing laws, and the appeals court imposed the required five year sentence. The Hammonds appealed that revised sentence all the way to the Supreme Court and lost.

Below is how the U.S. Attorney described one of the cases for which the Hammonds were convicted by a jury, the 2001 Hardie-Hammond Fire in the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area:

Dwight Lincoln Hammond, Jr., 73, and his son, Steven Dwight Hammond, 46, both residents of Diamond, Oregon in Harney County, were sentenced to five years in prison by Chief U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken for arsons they committed on federal lands.

[…]

Witnesses at trial, including a relative of the Hammonds, testified the arson occurred shortly after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer on BLM property.  Jurors were told that Steven Hammond handed out “Strike Anywhere” matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to “light up the whole country on fire.”  One witness testified that he barely escaped the eight to ten foot high flames caused by the arson.  The fire consumed 139 acres of public land and destroyed all evidence of the game violations…

In his live report on CNN Mr. Vercammen appeared to be sympathetic to the causes of the protesters and the convicted arsonists, providing only their side of the issues, while failing to give a balanced and objective description of the facts.

And then there is the text headline in the lower-third of CNN’s report: “Armed activists prepared to stay, defend themselves”.  DEFEND THEMSELVES? From what? Bearing weapons, they seized property belonging to all of the citizens of the United States and intend to give it to someone else.

Just before reporter Vercammen provided his live, one-sided evaluation of the occupation, Ammon Bundy gave a news conference at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Mr. Bundy, who was involved along other members of his family in a similar armed dispute with the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada in 2014, spent much of his time in front of the cameras discussing the Hammonds legal situation and his opinion that the federal government is unfairly harrassing them.

(UPDATE: On January 5, 2016 we researched and assembled the facts about about the Hammonds over the last 20 years.)

Militia takes over National Wildlife Service Refuge headquarters

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. Google Maps.

Some of the same militia that were active in an armed dispute with the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada in 2014 have broken into and occupied the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon about 30 miles southeast of Burns (map). The takeover occurred after a demonstration in Burns protesting the incarceration of two local ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond who are to report to prison on Monday after a federal judge ruled that the sentences they had served for arson were not long enough under federal law.

Two of the most visible members of the militia that seized the federal facility are Ammon and Ryan Bundy, sons of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who with their father Cliven Bundy and dozens of others, held off the Bureau of Land Management when the agency attempted to remove the Bundy’s cattle that had been grazing on BLM land in Nevada since 1993 without paying fees.

Cliven Bundy lost some support after comments he made about race and slavery.

A spokesman for the group said they planned on being in the Fish and Wildlife Service facility for “years” and encouraged others to join them and to “bring arms”. In addition to supporting the convicted arsonists, one of their goals is to turn over federally owned land to private individuals and companies.

From OregonLive:

The [Hammonds] were convicted of arson in the 2001 Hardie-Hammond Fire near Steens Mountain, where BLM leased grazing rights to them. Steven Hammond also was convicted of arson in the 2006 Krumbo Butte Fire on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Steens Mountain.

In bringing the action against the Hammonds, prosecutors said the government had spent $600,000 battling the fires.

Government sources told The Oregonian/OregonLive that the militia also was planning to occupy a closed wildland fire station near the town of Frenchglen. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management posts crews there during the fire season.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters
One of the buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. Photo by Don Barrett.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was established on unclaimed government lands August 18, 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt as the Lake Malheur Reservation and later became part of the National Wildlife Refuge system. The structures were built by the federal government’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) around 1930.

Below is the text from a news release issued October 7, 2015 by the Oregon District of the U.S. Attorney’s office that elaborates on some of the legal issues about the convicted arsonists.

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“Eastern Oregon Ranchers Convicted of Arson Resentenced to Five Years in Prison

EUGENE, Ore. – Dwight Lincoln Hammond, Jr., 73, and his son, Steven Dwight Hammond, 46, both residents of Diamond, Oregon in Harney County, were sentenced to five years in prison by Chief U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken for arsons they committed on federal lands.

A jury sitting in Pendleton, Oregon found the Hammonds guilty of the arsons after a two-week trial in June 2012.  The trial involved allegations that the Hammonds, owners of Hammond Ranches, Inc., ignited a series of fires on lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), on which the Hammonds had grazing rights leased to them for their cattle operation.

The jury convicted both of the Hammonds of using fire to destroy federal property for a 2001 arson known as the Hardie-Hammond Fire, located in the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area.  Witnesses at trial, including a relative of the Hammonds, testified the arson occurred shortly after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer on BLM property.  Jurors were told that Steven Hammond handed out “Strike Anywhere” matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to “light up the whole country on fire.”  One witness testified that he barely escaped the eight to ten foot high flames caused by the arson.  The fire consumed 139 acres of public land and destroyed all evidence of the game violations.  After committing the arson, Steven Hammond called the BLM office in Burns, Oregon and claimed the fire was started on Hammond property to burn off invasive species and had inadvertently burned onto public lands.  Dwight and Steven Hammond told one of their relatives to keep his mouth shut and that nobody needed to know about the fire.

The jury also convicted Steven Hammond of using fire to destroy federal property regarding a 2006 arson known as the Krumbo Butte Fire located in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Steen Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area.  An August lightning storm started numerous fires and a burn ban was in effect while BLM firefighters fought those fires.  Despite the ban, without permission or notification to BLM, Steven Hammond started several “back fires” in an attempt save the ranch’s winter feed.  The fires burned onto public land and were seen by BLM firefighters camped nearby.  The firefighters took steps to ensure their safety and reported the arsons.

By law, arson on federal land carries a five-year mandatory minimum sentence.  When the Hammonds were originally sentenced, they argued that the five-year mandatory minimum terms were unconstitutional and the trial court agreed and imposed sentences well below what the law required based upon the jury’s verdicts.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, upheld the federal law, reasoning that “given the seriousness of arson, a five-year sentence is not grossly disproportionate to the offense.”  The court vacated the original, unlawful sentences and ordered that the Hammonds be resentenced “in compliance with the law.”  In March 2015, the Supreme Court rejected the Hammonds’ petitions for certiorari. Today, Chief Judge Aiken imposed five year prison terms on each of the Hammonds, with credit for time they already served.

“We all know the devastating effects that are caused by wildfires.  Fires intentionally and illegally set on public lands, even those in a remote area, threaten property and residents and endanger firefighters called to battle the blaze” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Billy Williams.

“Congress sought to ensure that anyone who maliciously damages United States’ property by fire will serve at least 5 years in prison.  These sentences are intended to be long enough to deter those like the Hammonds who disregard the law and place fire fighters and others in jeopardy.”

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Frank R Papagni, Jr., AnneMarie Sgarlata and Kelly Zusman handled the prosecution of this case.”

California firefighter sentenced for arson

A reserve firefighter on the Tule River Indian Reservation in central California has been sentenced to two years in state prison for setting wildland fires. In a Visalia courtroom on Wednesday Zachary Janoko pleaded guilty to felony arson.

Below is an excerpt from the Porterville [California] Recorder.

…In July 2014, Janoko was arrested for suspicion of arson for starting fires on the Reservation and along the Tule riverbed. During the investigation, Janoko, who was then assigned to the Natural Resource Department at the Reservation, and who at times had assisted the Tule River Fire Department battling fires, was accused of causing the fires for financial gain.

“It was hard on people here. Zack had been assisting here,” said Jay Henshaw, wildland fire investigator with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He said Janoko had been a reserve firefighter that provided backup and support.

“We worked with the county, tribal police and Bureau of Indian Affairs on the investigation and were successful,” Henshaw said.

Henshaw attended Janoko’s sentencing in Visalia and said he was glad that Janoko had been caught and found guilty because it isn’t very often that arsonists are actually caught.

Serial arson suspect arrested in California

CAL FIRE Law Enforcement officers arrested 68 year old Michael Wayne Hamilton Sr. on May 11, suspected of starting 27 fires since 2012.

“The hard work that went in to making this arrest is a testament that we do not tolerate arson,” said Chief Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE director.

Mr. Hamilton, a resident of Squaw Valley, was booked into Fresno County Jail on 27 counts of “Arson to Forest Lands”, and 27 counts of “Use of an Incendiary Device”. The 27 fires all occurred in Fresno County in 2012, 2014 and 2015. Twelve of the fires came during a fire setting spree between Monday, May 4, 2015 and Monday, May 11, 2015. One fire allegedly set by Mr. Hamilton burned in excess of 60 acres.