Published: Wed, July 11, 2018
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Trump pardons ranchers in case that inspired 2016 occupation

Trump pardons ranchers in case that inspired 2016 occupation

Rugged individualists to some, risky arsonists to others, a father and son who were convicted of intentionally setting fires on public land in OR were pardoned Tuesday by President Donald Trump.

Dwight Hammond, 76, and Steven, 49, were convicted in 2012 for setting a fire that spread onto public land after years of disputes with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

President Trump has granted full pardons to two OR ranchers who were jailed after a controlled burn migrated onto public land.

Their original sentence of three months in prison was turned into five-year terms after an appeal by prosecutors.

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In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that evidence against the Hammonds was "conflicting" and noted the trial judge's opposition to imposing the required mandatory minimum sentence.

"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", Sanders wrote.

Brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who led the 2016 armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, cited the Hammond case as the driving force behind their decision to illegally seize public property wielding rifles and other firearms.

The White House noted that Dwight Hammond, 76, had already served about three years behind bars and that his son Steven, 49, had served almost four years in prison. He also wanted an easier sentence for Dwight and Steven Hammond, who had both previously rejected his assistance. The pair had also coughed up $400,000 to settle a civil suit with the feds. The elder Hammond said he was trying to fend off invasive species.

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"Pardoning the Hammonds sends a unsafe message to America's park rangers, wildland firefighters, law enforcement officers, and public lands managers".

The Hammonds have been locked up since January 4, 2016, after they were re-sentenced following their 2012 conviction for arson on public lands. The challenge resulted in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sentencing them back to prison to complete five-year sentences, until Trump used his pardon power.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in OR said Astarita falsely stated he had not fired his weapon during the attempted arrest of protester LaVoy Finicum, who was shot dead by another officer during the incident, "when he knew he had in fact fired his weapon".

Most of the protesters at the Malheur site were acquitted of charges the government brought against them.

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Prosecutors alleged in the indictment at the time that the Hammond family set fire to the rangeland after complaining the BLM was taking too long to complete required environmental studies before conducting controlled burn operations.

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