Takeover Day 15: Clash with environmentalists, arrest update

Crescent man in Portland jail, facing charges for violating federal court order

BURNS, Ore. - The armed activists occupying a national wildlife refuge in southeastern Oregon clashed with environmentalists Saturday as a standoff stretched into a 15th day.

Meanwhile, authorities said a Crescent man arrested Friday for use of a stolen refuge vehicle also faces likely charges for violating a court order to stay off federal property.

Kenneth Medenbach, 62, was taken to the Multnomah County Jail, where he was booked Friday night, according to jail records showing him held without bail Saturday on a "facility hold."

According to The Associated Press, The Oregonian reports (http://goo.gl/yHnphm ) that a shouting match erupted as members of the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit environmental group, tried to speak at a news briefing.

The center's executive director, Kierán Suckling, tried to speak, but the activists screamed and booed him.

Suckling said his group had a more civil interaction with other occupiers afterward. He said it was important to be present and to not criticize the occupation from the sidelines.

Medenbach was arrested Friday by Oregon State Police with one of two vehicles stolen from the occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge apparently will face federal charges for violating terms of his release on a previous trespass encampment on federal property in southern Oregon, officials said.

OSP troopers arrested Kenneth Medenbach, 62, shortly after noon at the Safeway in Burns, the Harney County Sheriff's Office said in a news release. He was arrested on probable cause for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.

The agency said police recovered two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service vehicles, a pickup truck and a van, "previously reported" as stolen to the sheriff's office.

A spokesman at law enforcement's joint information center told NewsChannel 21 "the vehicles were reported stolen after the situation started" at the refuge. They could not elaborate about the arrest, other than it was only of Medenbach and while he's charged with just one count, two vehicles were recovered.

OSP troopers and deputies from several county sheriff's offices called in to help patrol the area responded to the scene.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is grateful for the quick actions from law enforcement," said USFWS spokeswoman Megan Nagel. "We will continue to work with law enforcement to recover vehicles bought and paid for by the American people to care for their national wildlife refuge."

Among his numerous run-ins with federal authorities over the years, Medenbach was arrested last year for camping illegally for months on BLM land near Galice, whre protesters -- some associated with the Malheur refuge occupation -- objected to BLM efforts to enforce an order halting work at a gold mining operation, The Bulletin reported.

His pre-trial release conditions included that he not "reside, camp on, occupy or leave any property on federal lands without the prior written approval of the Court," the newspaper said.

A spokesman at the Harney County Joint Information Center had told reporters late Friday that Medenbach would be taken to the Deschutes County Jail in Bend on the charge of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. But instead, he was taken to the Portland jail, which also houses inmates on federal charges.

But on Saturday, the spokesman explained to NewsChannel 21, by email, "The conditions of Medenbach's pre-trial release included prohibition from occupying federal land, and judicial authorities are working to hold him accountable for that violation."

"Due to the fluidity of the situation, it would not be appropriate tat this time to discuss his status," he added.

A March 2014 article in The Bulletin said a La Pine-area property on U.S. Highway 97 had Medenbach, "known locally as the wood carver," as its longtime tenant but he had recently vacated the property.

He operates Chainsaw Creations in Crescent, according to a Website devoted to his work, including various carvings and cabins.

Back in 1995, the Bureau of Land Management told Medenbach he had to leave his makeshift cabin on federal land in northern Klamath County that he claimed to own.

"I feel the Lord's telling me to possess the land, and I can legally do it, because the U.S. Constitution says the government does not own the land," said Medenbach, who described himself as a born-again Christian, according to an Associated Press story.

He also was arrested in 1996 after refusing to answer charges of illegally occupying a campsite on Washington's Gfford Pinchot National Forest for more than three weeks, The AP reported. Medenbach claimed the printing of his name in all capital letters in court documents rendered the documents invalid, an argument often raised by those who call themselves "sovereign citizens."

A 2002 book by Robert L. Snow called "Terrorists Among Us: The Militia Threat," also included Medenbach, referring to him as "a member of the Oregon Militia" who had a number of confrontations with county officials regarding building codes on his five-acre property near La Pine. The book said Medenbach was building his dream home out of discarded refrigerators, water heaters and other such material.

"A 'code' is only a suggestion. It's not a law," he was quoted as saying, adding, "He subscribes to the legal theory that the courts have no authority over him because all judges belong to the state bar association, which he believes is unconstitutional."

"I'm willing to pay the price for my convictions," said Medenbach. "Someday, when the laws become too stringent, people will start waking up."

Ammon Bundy would not comment about the arrest, but the group was busy in other ways Friday, taking down at least five "surveillance" cameras they claim were being used by the FBI or others to spy on them.

The group said Harney County residents alerted them to the cameras, about 15 miles from the refuge, which they claim were being used to monitor their comings and goings.

"We don't like being spied on," Randy Bundy said.

Also Oregon Public Broadcasting's Amanda Peacher tweeted a photo Thursday evening of a road freshly cut by the militia on the refuge, prompting a stern statement Friday from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Building new roads without appropriate planning makes important cultural artifacts vulnerable to desecration and disrespect. It also puts habitat and wildlife at risk. Not to mention the unknown cost to the American taxpayer to repair the damage caused by building unplanned roads on the Refuge.

"The Service strongly condemns any action that puts cultural resources at risk. We take our trust responsibility to our First People's very seriously, and this is disappointing," the agency said.

FWS spokesman Jason Holm said of the action "It's deplorable. I'm not sure what part of the occupiers' interpretation of the Constitution promotes the destruction and desecration of culturally significant Native American sites. We share in the outrage of the Burns Paiute Tribe. This is disgusting, ghoulish behavior."

A community forum that was planned Friday night in Burns was canceled after county officials denied them permission to hold it at the county-owned fairgrounds.

Travis Williams of the Harney County Safety Committee announced the cancellation Friday morning: "There is no meeting tonight."

A spokesman for the group, Arizona rancher Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, said they are hoping to reset the meeting for Monday, if they can find a place to hold it.

Finicum acknowledged Friday that not everybody in Harney County wants the group there, adding, "But it's not about the masses. It's about the individual."

Two weeks in, the group's motives are unwavering: "This land must never be returned to the federal government," Finicum told NewsChannel 21 during an interview Friday.

Finicum said he's keeping one office at the refuge as his own, and that "As long as there's one rancher who says, 'LaVoy, don't go' -- here I am

He called the refuge a symbol for their fight against the federal government.

"We've taken this fortress, and we're here to hold it," Finicum said.


During the group's daily press conference Thursday, Bundy also called Harney County Judge Steve Grasty a "dictator" for not allowing the group to have its meeting at the fairgrounds.

"It is acts like this that expose the true problem: government officials are not the masters, they are the servants," Bundy said. "The people are the masters, they own the right, they own the buildings."

Grasty said the county will not do anything that supports or enables the Bundy group.

"That means no county building is available to the armed militia, including Mr. Bundy," Grasty said.

Without a meeting spot, it's uncertain if the community meeting will happen on Friday night.

On Wednesday, retired Burns fire chief Chris Briels resigned his position as part-time Harney County fire marshal.

"I did not just quit this county," Briels said during the Bundy press conference. "But I will not work for the government or a person that I do not believe or have faith in."

Grasty told NewsChannel 21 on Thursday he was disappointed by Briels' decision.

"He's been a longtime friend of mine, and this whole situation has cost the loss of one more friendship. This is not good for our community," Grasty said.

Briels joined the Harney County Committee of Safety in December. The group is affiliated with Mr. Bundy. On its website, it states: "The Committee of Safety is the governing body for the Militia and directs the Militia in its defensive actions."

"If a committee that has the power to pull the trigger on something that causes a bloodshed, I'm going to be on that committee," Briels said Wednesday. "Because nobody is going to touch that trigger when I'm there."

Grasty said Bundy's group will be billed for the added costs, which he estimated at $60,000 to $75,000 a day. He said that number consists mostly of wages for county employees. Schools and other county buildings were closed for the first week of occupation but the employees still had to be paid.

"Wage cost alone on that first day was $55,768," Grasty said.

The rest is composed of overtime for law-enforcement agencies, the building of a command center and other costs.

Grasty said it did not even include the costs for Oregon State Police troopers, other agencies or the FBI.

He said Harney County won't be able to foot the bill on their own and he hopes the state will help.

"If not, I don't know where this county will be," Grasty said.

Meanwhile, Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer told the Blue Mountain Eagle newspaper he met with some members of the armed militia on Tuesday, not knowing who they were at first.

"They actually wanted me to come down there and make a stand," Palmer told the newspaper. "I said, ‘Not without the (Harney County) sheriff's blessing.'"

Palmer also said while he has a good working relationship with Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward, he would not do the only thing he asked him.

"About the only thing he really told me is I'm welcome to come down there if I would shame and humiliate them into giving up, and I said, ‘No, I won't do that,'" Palmer said. "I'm not in the business of denouncing or shaming or humiliating anybody."

Sheriff Ward was not available for comment.

The group's members had planned to hold a meeting Friday evening in Burns to explain themselves and inform residents when they will leave.

Bundy previously said the occupiers wouldn't leave until a plan was in place to turn over federal lands to local authorities. His group began occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2.

The safety committee, which had previously asked the armed men to leave town, has now offered to take on the cause of the occupiers after they depart. That cause includes turning control of federal land over to local ranchers.

Briels, who said he does not condone violence but agrees with the armed men's mission, has been fire chief in the community for more than 20 years. He said he resigned because he has lost faith in the government and feels intimidated and betrayed by local officials.

Briels said Grasty, the county's highest-ranking official, told him he should distance himself from the committee and the armed group — something Briels said he's unwilling to do.

Briels isn't the only local official sympathetic to the armed group's cause.

Meanwhile, the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association issued a statement Thursday in support of Ward's actions amid the refuge takeover and saying the agencies that have sent help for patrols will continue to do so.

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

"Many OSSA member agencies -- along with many city police departments and the Oregon State Police -- have sent personnel to help Sheriff Ward patrol the community and maintain public safety during this critical time.

"We continue to be asked when the standoff at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge will end, and which agency will make that decision. We'd like to clarify the jurisdictional situation.

"The FBI is in charge of making and implementing plans to end the siege. The FBI has jurisdiction over the armed takeover of the federal buildings in the refuge, as well as any crimes committed therein. Questions about the standoff should addressed by the FBI, which continues to work diligently towards a peaceful solution.

"Meanwhile, Sheriff Ward and other local law enforcement agencies are directly addressing militia activities outside the wildlife refuge -- including the well-chronicled harassment and intimidation of residents, federal employees and law enforcement by militia members and associates.

"OSSA stands proud in saying that Sheriff Ward has done a commendable job fulfilling his oath as Sheriff and defending his community. Sheriff Ward has made every effort to peacefully defuse the situation and return normalcy to the residents he serves. He has worked tirelessly with his fellow law enforcement partners to develop strategies to protect and serve Harney County while the FBI continues its investigation.

"OSSA and its law enforcement partners will continue to offer support to Sheriff Ward and his team until this situation is resolved. We couldn't be prouder of the work he has done to serve Harney County and Oregon."

Asked how costs are being shared, OSSA Executive Director John Bishop told NewsChannel 21, "The lodging and meals along with incidentals are being handled by Harney (County), with some help. The agencies are paying their own employees' wages, etc.They are looking at ways to recoup some of the expenses, but I am unaware what those are at the moment."

Bishop added he doesn't know specifically how many outside sheriff's departments have sent deputies to Harney County to assist, "but the number is fairly large."

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