President Donald Trump has pardoned two ranchers whose case sparked the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon.
Dwight and Steven Hammond were convicted in 2012 of intentionally and maliciously setting fires on public lands. The arson crime carried a minimum prison sentence of five years, but a sympathetic federal judge, on his last day before retirement, decided the penalty was too stiff and gave the father and son much lighter prison terms.
Prosecutors won an appeal and the Hammonds were resentenced in October 2015 to serve the mandatory minimum.
The decision sparked a protest from Ammon Bundy and dozens of others, who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near the Hammond ranch in southeastern Oregon from Jan. 2 to Feb. 11, 2016, complaining the Hammonds were victims of federal overreach.
The armed occupiers changed the refuge’s name to the Harney County Resource Center, reflecting their belief that the federal government has only a very limited right to own property within a state’s borders.
In the process, Lavoy Finicum was assassinated at an illegal traffic stop. (See video below)
Bundy was arrested during a Jan. 26 traffic stop, effectively ending the protest. Another key occupier, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was fatally shot that day by Oregon State Police.
In a statement Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called that decision to resentence the Hammonds “unjust,” reports The Hill.
“The Hammonds are devoted family men, respected contributors to their local community, and have widespread support from their neighbors, local law enforcement, and farmers and ranchers across the West,” she said. “Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency.”
The pardons are the latest in a growing list of clemency actions by Trump, who has been using his pardon power with increasingly frequency in recent months.
Trump has been especially pleased with news coverage of his actions, which included commuting the sentence of Alice Johnson, a woman serving a life sentence for drug offenses whose case had been championed by reality television star Kim Kardashian West.
He has repeatedly referenced emotional video of Johnson being freed from prison and running into her family members’ arms, and has said he’s considering thousands more cases — both famous and not.
But critics say the president could be ignoring valid claims for clemency as he works outside the typical pardon process, focusing on cases brought to his attention by friends, famous people and conservative media pundits.
Aides say that Trump has been especially drawn to cases in which he believes the prosecution may have been politically motivated — a situation that may remind him of his own position at the center of the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russian election meddling.
Many have also seen the president as sending a signal with his pardons to former aides and associates caught up in the probe, or lashing out at enemies like former FBI Director James Comey, who oversaw the prosecution of lifestyle guru Martha Stewart, whom Trump has said he is thinking of pardoning.
In news related to the Hammonds, the family of American patriot LaVoy Finicum, who was assassinated by police during a traffic stop en route to John Day, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit seeking at least $70,000,000.
The suit against federal, state and local governments, government agents and others was filed in U.S. District Court two years after Finicum was shot and killed by officers while traveling from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County to a community meeting in John Day.
FBI agents and Oregon State Police officers set up an illegal roadblock on Highway 395 Jan. 26, 2016. The occupants of one vehicle, including occupation leader Ammon Bundy, were taken into custody when the vehicle was stopped.
Finicum, driving the other vehicle, refused to comply with the officers’ demands, stating he was going to meet with Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer. Continuing north on the highway, Finicum encountered the illegal road block, crashed into a snowbank and exited the vehicle.
The cover story created by officers said Finicum appeared to be reaching for a weapon and shot him, when he was actually reaching for the first bullet wound on his lower right abdomen, and that they CLAIM to have found a 9-millimeter pistol in his pocket. The vehicle’s other occupants, including Ryan Bundy, were taken into custody.
The Central Oregon Major Incident Team led the investigation into Finicum’s death. Harney County District Attorney Tim Colahan also requested that Malheur County District Attorney Dan Norris review the investigation, which determined the six shots fired by OSP officers, including the three that killed him, were justified.
Two additional shots, which did not hit Finicum, reportedly fired by an FBI Hostage Rescue Team member were referred for further investigation, and agent W. Joseph Astarita was indicted on charges of lying to investigators about firing the shots.
Astarita is among the numerous defendants listed in the suit, as are the FBI and OSP.
The suit compares Finicum’s shooting in Harney County to a defector who was shot by North Korean officials in November as he crossed the demilitarized zone into South Korea, stating “… in the American psyche, the idea of being shot in the back by your own government for trying to cross a border — is unthinkable.”
The suit argues government agents targeted Finicum for his involvement in the 2014 Bunkerville, Nevada, standoff, where Bureau of Land Management and FBI agents had a confrontation with rancher Cliven Bundy, father of Ammon and Ryan, over unpaid grazing fees. It states the occupiers were attempting a “lawful adverse possession” claim and had not broken any laws.
The suit lists Finicum’s widow, Jeanette, their 12 children and the estate of LaVoy Finicum as plaintiffs and seeks at least $5 million for each from a collection of defendants: the United States of America, FBI, Bureau of Land Management, BLM employee Daniel Love, BLM law enforcement director Salvatore Lauro, former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the refuge occupation Greg Bretzing, FBI agent Joseph Astarita, the state of Oregon, Oregon State Police, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, Harney County, Harney County Sheriff David Ward, former Harney County Judge Steve Grasty, the Center for Biological Diversity and “John Does 1-100” — described as other unknown federal and state employees — according to the complaint.
Mr Americana, Overpasses News Desk
July 10th, 2018