Thursday, September 15, 2016

Bundy trial: Oregon sheriff says he was threatened with ultimatum by militia

Oregon sheriff David Ward said Ammon Bundy and his armed supporters repeatedly threatened “to overthrow” him and tore apart his small rural community, in the first testimony in the high-profile militia standoff case. Ward’s town is still recovering from the impact of the Malheur national wildlife refuge occupation, the sheriff told a packed federal courtroom in Portland on the second day of the trial. “We’re still dealing with a lot of the fallout,” he said. The Bundys and their followers have long argued that federal authorities have no right to own or regulate public lands, and the activists traveled to Burns, a small town in eastern Oregon, to support two ranchers facing prison time. Father and son Dwight and Steve Hammond were convicted of federal arson charges in a case that for some ranchers and rural communities in the west symbolized government overreach. The Bundys had hoped that Ward, as the top county law enforcement leader, would take a stand against the federal government and defend the Hammonds from imprisonment. Ward testified that Ammon and another protester, Ryan Payne, met with him last November and threatened “civil unrest” if the sheriff didn’t intervene in the Hammonds’ case. “I was told that my responsibility was to prevent them from going to prison,” Ward said. “If I didn’t do those things, they would bring thousands of people to town to do my job.” Ward said the ultimatum was concerning and that the men told him: “We can’t control what they may or may not do.” The sheriff further testified that he had read about the Bundys’ 2014 fight with the government and was frightened: “The thought of that happening in my community scared the hell out of me.” The prosecution also presented 2015 emails from defendant Neil Wampler to Ward, including one that said if the sheriff did not support the Hammonds, the county would be “invaded by some of the most determined and organized – and armed – citizens alive in this country today”. In another message, Wampler wrote: “WE AIN’T PLAYIN.” Brian Needham, a lieutenant in the sheriff’s office, also testified that one of the occupation leaders, Ryan Payne, told him in a meeting that he should consider killing Ward, his boss, and replacing him. Payne allegedly told him he “should use any means necessary [to remove Ward] ... including death”. Judge Anna Brown said she wanted to make it clear to the jury that the sentencing of the Hammonds was final – and that the sheriff had no legal mechanism to fight it. “The Hammonds had their process … A sheriff does not have the authority to change that.” During cross-examination, Marcus Mumford, Ammon’s attorney, repeatedly asked Ward if he believed the federal government had the authority to regulate public land in Oregon. At one point, the seemingly exasperated sheriff responded: “I’m not understanding your question. Did I investigate the federal government? … There’s 200 years of case law that shows that they can own … land.” Ward also clarified that he did not feel physically threatened by Ammon and never saw him carry a gun. A small crowd of flag-waving activists supporting the defendants gathered across the street from the courthouse Wednesday afternoon, carrying signs that said “Ranchers lives matter” and “Release the Malheur protesters”. A lone protester opposing the Bundys held up a poster that read: “No guns ... or explosions in our wildlife refuge.” Before the hearing, Lisa Bundy, Ammon’s wife, told the Guardian that the family has been repeatedly disappointed by Ward’s actions. “He has more power than any federal official did, and he put all the power in their hands, which made me think he didn’t want to deal with it,” she said. “So why is he in that office?” She added: “I would love for him to speak the truth … and not what he was told to say.”...more

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