Letters from the West

The Justice Department needs to hold itself accountable, not just the Bundys

Arrested militant's thoughts on how the Oregon standoff will end

Two days before the arrests of the leaders of the Oregon standoff, Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker spoke with militia member Joseph Donald O'Shaughnessy about his thoughts on how the occupation would end. He was arrested separately in Burns,
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Two days before the arrests of the leaders of the Oregon standoff, Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker spoke with militia member Joseph Donald O'Shaughnessy about his thoughts on how the occupation would end. He was arrested separately in Burns,

U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro restored the rule of law to the case of Cliven Bundy, his family and the gunmen who answered his call when federal agents sought to confiscate his cattle.

Navarro dismissed the case Monday, saying federal prosecutors had shown “flagrant misconduct” when they withheld evidence that could have supported the Bundys’ case. She gave a laundry list of misdeeds by prosecutors, including failure to disclose information from cameras recording the standoff and the presence of federal snipers around the Bundy Ranch.

No matter what you think about what Bundy and his family have done, or about his beliefs about public land, you can’t justify what prosecutors and law enforcement officials did.

“Judge Navarro did the right thing in dismissing the case, but we must also take steps to ensure that such prosecutorial misconduct isn’t repeated,” said Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador, who had earlier written Attorney General Jeff Sessions with his concerns about the case. “We must reaffirm that civil liberties are absolutely fundamental to our constitutional form of government.”

What Navarro didn’t do was excuse Cliven Bundy for failing to pay his grazing fees and continue to have his cattle forage on public land after multiple court decisions. Navarro did not endorse Bundy’s outlandish view of the U.S. Constitution, or excuse the conduct the Bundys and their militia allies showed.

Instead, the Nevada judge, appointed by President Barack Obama, followed the Constitution. By doing so, she undercut the fundamental argument the Bundys have made in the 2014 standoff and the 2016 call for revolt at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. They can’t say they didn’t get justice.

They will not be held accountable the way Idahoan Todd Engel of Boundary County was for his actions after their call to arms. Engel was found guilty of felony obstruction and traveling across state lines in aid of extortion in a 2017 trial.

Two other Idahoans charged with felonies — Eric Parker, an electrician from Hailey, and O. Scott Drexler, a fence builder from Challis — pleaded to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of a court order after they were seen pointing assault rifles at federal law enforcement officials during the 2014 standoff.

Cliven’s sons Ammon and Ryan — the former lives in Emmett — won’t have to face the music for their January 2016 occupation of the Malheur refuge in Oregon. They and five others were acquitted of conspiracy, weapons and theft charges after a five-week trial in 2016. But many of their followers are either in jail or face fines and probation.

Duane Ehmer is the soft-spoken Army veteran from Oregon who was photographed several times holding an American flag while riding his horse, Hellboy, on the refuge. He was sentenced to a year in prison in November for destroying government property by digging a trench across Paiute tribal burial grounds on the refuge.

Ehmer, who patiently escorted my wife and I through the refuge during the occupation, did not come up with the plan to dig the trench to defend the occupiers. He and three others found guilty of felony charges in a 2017 trial were led by the Bundys, who have never acknowledged they did anything wrong.

Here's the story of how armed men on a mission from God grabbed a national wildlife refuge and sparked a debate about the rule of law and public lands.

Montana’s Ryan Payne, also acquitted Monday in the Nevada case, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the Oregon case. Several others pleaded guilty in both incidents.

Even relatively minor players have been punished. Sean and Sandra Anderson, of Riggins, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespass charges. They’re finishing a year of probation and have to pay $1,000 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Then there are the two Oregon ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven, whose order back to prison Jan. 2, 2016, was the pretext used by the Bundys to begin the Oregon occupation. The Hammonds had already served a year for arson for a fire on the refuge. But the same U.S. attorney whose team later couldn’t get a conviction against the Bundys appealed their sentence, saying the terrorism charges they were convicted under required more prison time.

Instead of joining the Bundys, the Hammonds followed the law and went to prison.

Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, a spokesman I met during the occupation, chose to run through a roadblock that Ammon Bundy honored on a lonely Oregon highway. He was shot to death by an Oregon state trooper.

Don’t forget the federal workers and their families in Burns who were threatened, bullied and harassed by men with assault rifles throughout the occupation.

Charges remain against other members of the Bundy family, and they still should be held accountable for the court orders they already had violated.

Cliven’s grazing case is still unresolved. The Department of Justice could rule that the $1 million in grazing fees and fines is noncollectable and report it to the Internal Revenue Service as income, an option allowed under federal law.

Justice also could seek a settlement that would end prosecution of outstanding charges against the other family members in exchange for them pulling their illegally grazing cattle off the public’s land.

And the department should have its inspector general investigate the conduct of its prosecutors and law enforcement agents, which documents suggest had incited the Bundys into their violent behavior, said Rick Manning, president of the Virginia-based Americans for Limited Government. Then, it should develop policies that ensure this never happens again.

In the wake of both the Oregon and Nevada acquittals, there remains a lot of cynicism and distrust. Whatever is done needs to follow Navarro’s example of strict adherence to the rule of law and fairness for all.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker