President Trump has granted full pardons to two Oregon ranchers who were jailed after a controlled burn migrated onto public land.
A White House statement Tuesday explained Dwight Lincoln Hammond Jr. and his son, Steven Hammond, are multi-generation cattle ranchers who were imprisoned in connection with a fire that leaked onto a small portion of neighboring public grazing land.
“The evidence at trial regarding the Hammonds’ responsibility for the fire was conflicting, and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges,” the statement said.
They were sentenced to prison and released after serving their time. But the Obama administration demanded they go back into court “where they were sentenced to further time in prison under an anti-terrorism law, even though there was no evidence presented that the ranchers had planned or engaged in terrorism in any way.”
Their plight prompted Ammon and Ryan Bundy’s Citizens for Constitutional Freedom to stage a protest, occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon from Jan. 2 to Feb. 11, 2016.
One protester was killed when officers ambushed the protesters while they were traveling to a meeting.
The White House statement said that at “the Hammonds’ original sentencing, the judge noted that they are respected in the community and that imposing the mandatory minimum, 5-year prison sentence would ‘shock the conscience’ and be ‘grossly disproportionate to the severity’ of their conduct.”
“As a result, the judge imposed significantly lesser sentences. The previous administration, however, filed an overzealous appeal that resulted in the Hammonds being sentenced to five years in prison. This was unjust.”
The White House noted Dwight Hammond is now 76 years old and has served approximately three years in prison. Steven Hammond is 49 and has served approximately four years in prison.
“They have also paid $400,000 to the United States to settle a related civil suit. 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. Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency.”
WND columnist Ilana Mercer commented in 2016 on “the sorry state of affairs,” writing that “to look at rancher Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son, Steven, 46, is to see the salt of the earth, the best of America.”
“Any decent American ought to be able to see that these family ranchers, so different from politically connected agribusiness, are better and braver than all of us city slickers put together.”
She criticized the “double-jeopardy-like maneuver by the federal government.”
“If the Hammonds are jailed for unintentionally losing control of a backfire, so should BLM agents, whose gross mismanagement causes death and destruction every summer,” she said.
Most of the protesters at the Malheur site were acquitted of charges the government brought against them. And WND reported that the local sheriff backed claims of FBI misbehavior in the case.
The declaration came from Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson just as FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita was pleading not guilty to three counts of making false statements and two counts of obstruction of justice in federal court in Portland, Oregon.
The FBI agent was accused of firing at the protesters then picking up shell casings to conceal that fact and lying to investigators.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon 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.”
“Astarita also knowingly engaged in misleading conduct toward Oregon State Police officers by failing to disclose that he had fired two rounds during the attempted arrest,” the statement said.
Nelson said, as the Washington Times reported, that the actions by “multiple members of the FBI Hostage Rescue Team” had “damaged the integrity of the entire law enforcement profession, which makes me both disappointed and angry.”
Nelson said he told Justice Department and FBI officials, including then-acting Director Andrew McCabe, about “possible criminal conduct” by some involved FBI Hostage Rescue Team agents.