Wednesday, 19 September, 2018

Trump pardons ranchers whose arrests led to armed occupation of wildlife refuge

President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House Tuesday Trump pardons Oregon ranchers at center of 40-day standoff | TheHill
Ellis Copeland | 11 July, 2018, 11:12

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday pardoned OR cattle ranchers Dwight Hammond and his son after both were convicted on arson charges, sparking the 2016 occupation of a wildlife refuge, according to a White House statement.

Dwight has so far served about three years in prison and Steven has served about four years.

In 2011 the federal government charged the two OR ranchers with arson and destruction of federal property for having done nothing more than utilize the same fire-management tools that the government routinely employs.

Hogan instead sentenced Dwight Hammond to three months in prison and Steven Hammond to a year and one day.

The Hammonds said they were using standard brush-control and land-management techniques, but the government said that in at least one instance they were trying to hide evidence of their slaughtering a herd of deer.

The second imprisonment caused a local backlash.

The Hammonds distanced themselves from the occupiers and didn't endorse the action.

"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.

The Hammonds were given five years, with credit for time served, in 2015.

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The Malheur 7, as they came to be known, were later acquitted of the government's charges by a jury.

The Hammonds' case led to the armed 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The White House in a statement on Tuesday called the order to return the two to prison "unjust".

Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the environmental group Center for Western Priorities, argued in a statement that by pardoning the Hammonds, Trump has "sided with lawless extremists who believe that public land does not belong to all Americans".

The pardons are the latest in a series by Trump that have raised questions about whether he is using the presidential power to reward political supporters.

Dwight and Steven Hammond were both ultimately convicted of setting a fire in 2001 that consumed 139 acres of federal property, while the younger rancher was also found guilty of lighting a "back burn" that spread onto an acre of public land in 2006.

"Pardoning the Hammonds sends a risky message to America's park rangers, wildland firefighters, law enforcement officers, and public lands managers", Rokala said in a statement. The government appealed the sentence, and they were later given the maximum terms of five years in prison.

But critics say the president could be ignoring valid claims for clemency as he works outside the typical pardon process, focusing on cases brought to his attention by friends, famous people and conservative media pundits.

"The Hammonds are multi-generation cattle ranchers in OR imprisoned in connection with a fire that leaked onto a small portion of neighboring public grazing land", the White House said in a statement.

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