Politics

Harney County sheriff: 'This can't happen any more'

FBI, OSP establish refuge 'containment' blockade; St. Charles Bend lockdown lifted

BURNS, Ore. - Law enforcement officials provided few new details at a news conference Wednesday on the deadly encounter with refuge occupiers in a traffic stop north of Burns, but insisted they had tried to end the takeover peacefully and that the unwanted outcome stemmed from the behavior and choices of those involved.

At the end of a brief news conference Wednesday in Burns, Harney County Sheriff David Ward drew applause from residents in the room when he concluded his remarks by saying:

"If we have issues with the way things are going in our government, we have a responsibility as citizens to act in the appropriate manner," Ward said. "We don't arm up and rebel. We work through the appropriate channels."

"This can't happen any more," he said. "This can't happen in America, and it can't happen in Harney County. Thank you."

Wednesday's day 26 of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge takeover near Burns dawned like no other, with a smaller group of occupiers surrounded by FBI and Oregon State Police checkpoints after an intended trip to John Day led to gunfire, the death of spokesman LaVoy Finicum, wounding of Ryan Bundy and arrest of five there and three elsewhere on federal charges.

Shortly before 4:30 p.m., the FBI and Oregon State Police began "an enforcement action to bring into custody a number of individuals associated with the armed occupation" of the refuge.

Officials said shots were fired during a traffic stop on U.S. Highway 395 about 20 miles north of Burns, the road to John Day, where several militia members were planning to attend a community meeting with the Grant County sheriff and others.

CNN reported it was not clear who fired the first shots. But they later reported the man killed was Arizona rancher Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, who with Ammon Bundy were the faces of the occupation and spoke to reporters frequently each day.

One of the occupiers -- Finicum -- was killed during the arrest, a law enforcement official told CNN.

The official said when two vehicles were stopped, everyone obeyed orders to surrender except for two people: Finicum and Bundy's brother, Ryan Bundy.

Shots were fired, but it's not known who fired first, the official said. The official said Ryan Bundy was injured.

Oregon State Police confirmed one man wanted under a federal probable cause warrant was killed and another suffered non-life-threatening injuries, was taken to an area hospital for treatment and released into FBI custody. They did not identify the man.

Those arrested during the traffic stop included brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, Brian Cavalier, Shawna Cox and Ryan Payne. The FBI said all face a federal felony charge of "conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 372."

A sixth person, Joseph O'Shaugnessy, was arrested in Burns shortly before 6 p.m. and Internet talk show host Pete Santilli, who has streamed much of his time at the refuge online, was arrested around 6:30 p.m. on the same charges.

The injured man later was released from the hospital into FBI custody, they said,.

An eighth arrest occurred in Arizona, as the FBI said Jon Eric Ritzheimer surrendered without incident to the Peoria, Arizona police department around 8:30 p.m.

St. Charles Bend spokeswoman Lisa Goodman confirmed to NewsChannel 21 that the hospital was in lockdown Tuesday night as a security precaution after an Air Link helicopter was sent to Harney District Hospital in Burns.

Goodman later said they had learned no patients would be coming from Harney County but that the hospital would remain on lockdown through the night. It was lifted around 5:30 a.m. Wednesday.

ODOT's TripCheck indicated a 50-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 395 was closed between Burns and John Day.and for motorists to use alternate routes. OSP later said the road would be closed for an extended time for an investigation.

Late Tuesday night, NewsChannel 21's Lauren Martinez observed at least three separate convoys of vehicles, some armored, leaving from the area of the Burns Airport, where law enforcement has staged.

They appeared to heading south toward the refuge, where a piece of road equipment had been put in the middle of the road as a blockade by the remaining refuge occupiers.. One of them, Jason Patrick, told NewsChannel 21 early Wednesday they still want a "peaceful resolution."

Patrick, described as a new leader of the remaining occupiers, told Oregon Public Broadcasting (http://bit.ly/1nxZD08 ) that five or six members of the group agreed to continue the standoff.

Patrick also talked on the phone with a reported FBI representative early Wednesday, saying the FBI was offering "safe passage" out of the refuge. He asked them why the FBI cut off negotiations when Ammon Bundy insisted the media be present for any talks.

The FBI and OSP established containment checkpoints on key roads leading to the refuge overnight, to ensure safety, the FBI reported.

Tuesday night, Cliven Bundy told reporters Finicum's death was "cold-blooded murder," and the Bundy Ranch Facebook page made the same claim, saying that "he had his hands up and was shot three times."

OSP troopers said the Deschutes County Major Incident Team will assist OSP and the Harney County District Attorney's Office in the officer-involved shooting investigation. They said it "will be conducted in compliance with Senate Bill 111, which outlines protocols to be followed when deadly physical force is used."

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Monday story:

While a Harney County official said Monday there will be no more community meetings until the end of a refuge takeover now in its fourth week, the sheriff of nearby Grant County agreed to meet with militia leaders Tuesday evening after making some controversial statements in support of their cause.

Harney County Judge Steve Grasty told NewsChannel 21, "I guess the only thing I see that's changed since last week is Mr. Bundy is more willing to drive anywhere he wants in our county>

"Law enforcement said, 'We're not sure we can provide good security,'" Grasty said. "And people calling me concerned, saying, "I'm afraid to go to the meeting. I'm afraid there'll be firearms there."

"We've got to figure out a way to not just be so angry that we can't hear each other," he said. "This county, and many in this county, have been pretty steadfast in saying, 'Mr. Bundy, with your armed militia, you've made your point, you did that weeks ago - it's time for you to go home."

Asked if he plans another community meeting, Grasty told NewsChannel 21: not as long as the militia members are still there.

"I think law enforcement is going to have to make a decision," Grasty added.

But back at the refuge, occupation leaders say it's about a bigger issue than just cows and grass.

"We're fighting for that hunter's right to access the land," spokesman LaVoy Finicum said Monday,."for that camper's right to come and camp, and recreationalists, his right to come and recreate. Because all of these things are being shut down. These are public lands."

As for the sheriff's safety concerns, Finicum said, "How many guns does he have to have to feel secure? He's got a whole army of federal agents. You know, he's got metal detectors. He's got county sheriff's and county deputies."

Tuesday evening, Bundy and other the militia leaders plan to meet with Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer and community members at 6 p.m. at their senior center in John Day.

"You've got a good sheriff over there," Finicum said. "The community wants to hear what we're doing."

Meanwhile, a reputed refuge occupier, the first to be arrested, was in a federal courtroom in Medford on Monday, facing charges of violating his pre-trial agreement after a previous government protest by once again occupying federal land.

A federal magistrate found probable cause for that violation and unauthorized use of a refuge-owned vehicle with which he was arrested Jan. 15 at the Burns Safeway. The judge ordered Kenneth Medenbach, 62, of Crescent, to be detained until his trial, scheduled for March 22.

The Grant County sheriff has endorsed two of the demands made by an armed group that took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge more than three weeks ago.

Local, state and federal law enforcement are working to figure out how to deal with the occupation by the activists opposing federal land policy. Federal authorities have taken a hands-off approach so far and say they want a peaceful resolution.

Palmer told The Oregonian that releasing ranchers Dwight and Steve Hammond from federal prison and sending the FBI out of the region would "be a start" to ending the occupation.

Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe, who has been assisting Harney County officials, says Palmer's position is hampering efforts to end the armed standoff.

Grasty said Monday he canceled an evening community meeting because law enforcement could not guarantee "good security" for the event after militia members showed up last week and school officials said some in the audience were armed in violation of school policy.

Grasty told NewsChannel 21's Lauren Martinez people are frustrated and that leader Ammon Bundy feels he can walk around anywhere he wants in the county.

Also, he said, frustration had grown due to only 150 tickets that were to be made available at the smaller, new venue, the county senior center, for a meeting that was to be recorded for airing on OPB's "Think Out Loud" radio program.

Grasty said one man he spoke with said he'd camp out from midnight if he had to, to get a ticket.

Earlier, Grasty had said that a no-guns policy would be strictly enforced at the meeting.

Here's the full statement issued Sunday afternoon by Grasty:

"It is with a heavy heart that I feel the need to cancel the community meeting scheduled for January 25. Preparations to protest and block entrance to the Senior Center have led me to determine that it's time to take a time out.

"Cancellation of this meeting seems prudent in order to maintain the safety of our community and everyone in it, and because an open and honest conversation cannot take place in this type of atmosphere. Further, I will not give these agitators what they want most, which is attention.

"My goal for these community meetings has always been to create a forum where Harney County residents can come together to ask questions and talk with one another during this difficult time. These are the people who elected me. These are people I want to hear from. It saddens me greatly that we cannot have this conversation among ourselves without interference from outsiders.

"I feel it's important to give Harney County residents an opportunity to share their concerns, express their frustrations, provide their input and ask their questions. My offer stands to any Harney County resident to make an appointment and come see me. My door is always open to you."

On Saturday, a rancher from New Mexico renounced his U.S. Forest Service grazing contract at an event held by the group that took over the refuge headquarters to protest federal land use policies.

Adrian Sewell of Grant County, New Mexico, took the action at the event, attended by about 120 people at the refuge

A group led by Ammon Bundy began occupying the refuge in eastern Oregon on Jan. 2. The group said it plans to open the 300-square-mile refuge for cattle this spring.

Bundy has said the federal government has no authority to enforce federal grazing contracts with ranchers.

Sewell said he didn't mind "standing out" as the only rancher to renounce his federal contract at Saturday's event. He said he's restricted to allowing 85 cattle to graze on his federal allotment, where historically he's run about 600 animals.

Saturday evening, group spokesman LaVoy Finicum told NewsChannel 21 eight Utah ranchers also had signed letters of cancellation with the BLM.

"You are witnessing the beginning of a freedom revolution," he said via text message. "More signing here in Oregon next Friday."

Earlier Saturday afternoon, about 40 people gathered near the refuge in a counter-protest of the 3-week-old takeover.

The crowd chanted "Go home, Bundys!" during the event, which took place at an overlook about five miles from the refuge amid bitter wind and sleet.

The militia group has occupied the national wildlife refuge since Jan. 2 to oppose federal land use policies.

Katie Fite from Boise, Idaho, called the occupiers bullies and said their action could give rise to other hate-filled efforts to take over public lands.

Kieran Seckling with the Center for Biological Diversity said the Bundys want to stage other occupations like the one in Oregon, but he says there's no town in the West that wants to be the next Burns.

Also on Saturday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife issued a statement responding to claims by those who the email subject line referred to as "Malheur occupiers roleplaying as cultural resource heroes."

Jason Holm, assistant regional director for external affairs with the agency's Pacific Region, said the agency issued the statement because the occupiers are expected soon to ask the Harney County sheriff to investigate the USFWS treatment of artifacts on the refuge.

In a recent video posted to the Bundy Ranch's Facebook page, several of the takeover participants search through boxes of Burns Paiute Tribe artifacts, and Finicum claims they have been poorly stored, such as rat droppings in some of the boxes.

"This is how Native Americans heritage is being treated. To me, I don't think it's acceptable," he said.

Here's the agency's statement, in full:

"We are confident these artifacts entrusted to the Refuge are cared for with dignity and respect.

"Working in direct coordination with the the Burns Paiute tribe, the Refuge is home to a number of artifacts that have been found on the Refuge during studies carried out to learn more about the history and use of the lands by their ancestors. These artifacts have been curated and stored under lock and key, until the illegal occupants violated the security of the Refuge.

"Additionally, there are other artifacts that have been turned over to the Refuge by third parties. Those items were waiting for the discussions to be held between the tribe and the Refuge as to how they should be re-homed. These items were also under lock and key.

"It is not surprising that the illegal occupiers misinterpret how the artifacts are stored, as they have attempted to force their narrow view of right and wrong on the county and nation as a whole.  Its ironic that they are claiming to be serving the same people they referred to as "savages" last week.

"For the individuals who have broken into the secure facilities at the Refuge to portray themselves and their actions as anything other than the violation it is, is simply another fabrication.   I'd remind them that the earth they are currently moving is sacred, the land they trod (and drive) upon is not their own, and the words they speak are vaporous pablum."

In a video posted to the Bundy Ranch Facebook page Saturday evening, Ammon Bundy displays a Bronze Star, uniform, flag and "other gifts from supportive veterans and officers who love liberty." His voice at times choked with emotion, Bundy said he had a hard time taking the items, such as one man who gave him an American flag that was draped over his veteran brother's casket.

"I am honored to have these things, and I will always honor them until my death," he concluded.


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