Ammon Bundy and other Burns, Oregon, occupiers were indicted by a federal grand jury on Wednesday afternoon. The Citizens for Constitutional Freedom members were protesting the Bureau of Land Managment (BLM) supervision of federally-owned lands. Fellow member LaVoy Finicum was shot and killed by the FBI when he was traveling with the indicted to a community meeting.
The indictment of Ammon Bundy and the other Malheur wildlife refuge protesters is currently under federal seal. No details about the charges the 11 individuals are facing have yet been released to the public. Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoff Barrow told the media that the indictment could be unsealed within 24 hours, MSN reports. Barrow also stated that the federal indictment pertains to those arrested alongside the road after the LaVoy Finicum shooting and “others,” possibly others still occupying the Oregon wildlife center.
— Bipartisan Report (@Bipartisanism) February 4, 2016
When the defense attorneys for Ammon Bundy and his fellow occupiers demanded that U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice Stewart immediately release the indictment, the request was rejected. Judge Stewart would only state that the lawyers for the accused will receive a copy of the indictment “in due course.”
Bundy and the others are not scheduled to be arraigned until February 24. Defense attorneys demanded the immediate unsealing of the indictment, a request denied Wednesday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice Stewart. The Citizens for Constitutional Freedom were charged with felony conspiracy. The men and one woman allegedly intimidated federal officers and prevented them from doing their job at the Burns wildlife refuge.
Ammon and the occupiers also named in the indictment do have the right to be present at a preliminary hearing, where they can question the arresting officer about the probable cause used to issue the warrant on the federal charges. After being indicted, the right to call for such a hearing evaporates. When defense attorneys were told on Wednesday that the preliminary hearings scheduled to discuss had been canceled, they quickly registered their anger and frustration about the decision.
Lisa Hay, the counsel for Oregon occupier Ryan Payne, said that federal prosecutors took steps to stop the preliminary hearings to question the arresting officer before the indictment against the occupiers was handed down by the grand jury. Hay was also irked that instead of presenting the indictment to the defense attorneys, it was given both solely and directly to the judge.
“That’s an unusual thing and it’s unfortunate in a case like this, where many of the people distrust the government to begin with,” Lisa Hay added.
— Yahoo News (@YahooNews) February 4, 2016
The federal government owns about one out of every three acres of land in the United States. Approximately 44 percent of all land in the West is owned by the federal government and managed by the BLM. Long before Cliven Bundy became a household name, ranchers, farmers, and property rights advocates were railing against the enormous federal agency.
The occupiers that took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in the southeastern region of Oregon maintain that the Constitution prohibits the federal government from becoming a land baron and owing copious amounts of property on a permanent basis. Ammon Bundy and the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom vowed to remain in Burns until the matter was taken up by the court and ownership of the refuge was placed back in local hands.
The occupiers remaining at the Malheur wildlife center include David Fry, 27, of Blanchester, Ohio; Jeff Banta, 46, of Elko, Nevada; and Sean Anderson, 48; and Sandy Anderson, 47, a married couple from Riggins, Idaho. The individuals want assurances from the government that they will not be arrested if they vacate the property.
Defense attorneys for Bundy and his peers staunchly maintain that the group was not committing a federal crime when converging upon the refuge, but engaging in an act of civil disobedience. Supporters of the group have pointed out that the Occupy movement being allowed to trespass and camp for multiple days and weeks in public spaces without being arrested for even a misdemeanor crime.
So in this video, Shawna Cox says she filmed the shooting death of LaVoy Finicum. Says FBI has the footage https://t.co/k6Ix8luenZ
— Ryan Haas (@ryanjhaas) February 2, 2016
Last Friday, Ammon Bundy urged those still at the refuge to vacate the land so that their “lives would not be taken,” Fox News reports.
Shawna Cox, an occupier, was allowed to go back home to Utah while the charges pending against her worked their way through the justice system. She petitioned Judge Stewart for permission to attend the LaVoy Finicum funeral this Friday in her hometown. The judge denied the request.
What do you think about the Ammon Bundy indictment? Should the federal government own so much land in the United States?
[Photo by Rick Bowmer/AP, File]