Oregon sher­iff tes­ti­fies to oc­cu­pa­tion warn­ing

He says email ar­rived weeks be­fore protest

Baltimore Sun - - NATION - By Steven Dubois

PORT­LAND, Ore. — The oc­cu­piers who took over a na­tional wildlife refuge warned an Oregon sher­iff that his county would be “in­vaded” by armed cit­i­zens if he didn’t pro­tect his con­stituents from the fed­eral govern­ment, the law of­fi­cer tes­ti­fied Wed­nes­day.

Har­ney County Sher­iff Dave Ward said that be­fore the 41-day stand­off, group leader Am­mon Bundy and an­other man urged him to pro­tect two lo­cal ranch­ers who faced ad­di­tional prison time for set­ting fires on fed­eral lands. That protest grew into de­mands for the fed­eral govern­ment to turn pub­lic range over to lo­cal con­trol.

Bundy and six oth­ers charged with threat­en­ing and in­tim­i­dat­ing fed­eral em­ploy­ees are on trial in the oc­cu­pa­tion of Mal­heur Na­tional Wildlife Refuge ear­lier this year. Five also are charged with pos­ses­sion of a firearm in a fed­eral fa­cil­ity.

Ward said he re­ceived an email in the weeks be­fore the oc­cu­pa­tion from de­fen­dant Neil Wam­pler, say­ing the sher­iff needed to pro­tect res­i­dents from an abu­sive govern­ment or “see your county in­vaded by the most de­ter­mined and or­ga­nized — and armed — cit­i­zens alive in this coun­try.”

The lead­ers of the oc­cu­pa­tion said they came to Oregon’s high desert to help lo­cals deal with an over­reach­ing fed­eral govern­ment that has abused peo­ple’s land rights for decades.

“I felt we were not there to break the law but to en­force the law,” said Ryan Bundy, Am­mon’s brother, re­fer­ring to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion. Ryan Bundy, who Har­ney County Sher­iff Dave Ward, who met with Am­mon Bundy near the Mal­heur Na­tional Wildlife Refuge in Jan­uary, tes­ti­fied against the oc­cu­pa­tion leader Wed­nes­day. acted as his own at­tor­ney, told the court dur­ing open­ing state­ments Tues­day that he wasn’t anti-govern­ment, “as long as it’s done cor­rectly.”

But pros­e­cu­tors said he and the oth­ers broke the law.

“Ev­ery­one in this great na­tion has a right to his or her be­liefs. We are not prose­cut­ing the de­fen­dants be­cause we don’t like what they think or said,” prose­cu­tor Ge­of­frey Bar­row told jurors. “We are prose­cut­ing them be­cause of what they did.”

Bar­row dis­missed claims that the takeover was a le­git­i­mate protest of fed­eral land man­age­ment. The Bundy broth­ers are part of a Ne­vada ranch­ing fam­ily em­broiled in a long-run­ning dis­pute over land use.

The is­sue traces back to the 1970s and the Sage­brush Re­bel­lion, a move by West­ern states to win more con­trol of vast fed­eral land hold­ings.

Mar­cus Mum­ford, at­tor­ney for Am­mon Bundy, said in his open­ing state­ment that the oc­cu­pa­tion had noth­ing to do with im­ped­ing fed­eral em­ploy­ees.

Bundy “did what he did to de­mand ac­count­abil­ity from the fed­eral govern­ment,” Mum­ford said.

Mum­ford re­peat­edly said Bundy was try­ing to take the refuge legally by a prac­tice known as ad­verse pos­ses­sion, which is a way to gain ti­tle to land by oc­cu­py­ing it for a pe­riod of time.

Mum­ford noted that the oc­cu­piers never aimed a gun at any­one.

The Bundys were ar­rested in a Jan. 26 traf­fic stop that in­cluded the fa­tal shoot­ing of Robert “Lavoy” Finicum, an oc­cu­pa­tion spokesman.

“We are not prose­cut­ing the de­fen­dants be­cause we don’t like what they think or said. We are prose­cut­ing them be­cause of what they did.”

BETH NAKA­MURA/THE OREGONIAN

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