Every American should be celebrating the release and pardon of two Oregon ranchers who were at the center of the Bundy protests that captivated Americans and shined a huge spotlight on the injustices American ranchers were facing because of an overreaching branch of the US government. In December of 2017, a federal judge declared a mistrial in the Bundy case after it was discvoered that prosecutors willfully withheld evidence of FBI snipers and surveillance used during their standoff. Watch the unbelievable video of the standoff here:
A change.org petition by Linsay Tyler tells the frightening story of Oregon ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond that led to the protests:
For decades agencies of the Department of Interior, namely the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), have deployed their administrative powers to punitively regulate and maliciously prosecute the Hammond family of Oregon in a thinly veiled attempt to drive them off their ranch, their historic grazing allotments and vested water rights.
In August of 1994, the BLM and USFWS falsely arrested Dwight Hammond for protecting their legally owned water rights. While the Hammonds prevailed in state court proving their vested water right claims against water right claims made by the government they elected not to counter-sue for the BLM and USFWS for damages and false arrest.
For 20 years, the Hammonds fought to be able to trail cattle on historic stock driveways through USFWS land using historical records to establish their right to trail their cattle. During that time, government records document repeated efforts by the USFWS and BLM to prevent the Hammonds from using their historic rights. Between 1994 to 2006, the Hammonds were arbitrarily stripped of three BLM grazing permits and one Malheur National Wildlife Refuge grazing permit, gutting the economic viability of their ranching operation. The grazing permits were attached to the Hammond’s statutorily protected vested stock water rights and grazing preferences.
In the present case, in 2001, with BLM permission, Steve Hammond started a prescribed burn on their private land that accidentally spilled onto 137 acres of adjoining federal land. The BLM never cited the Hammonds for that fire.
In 2006, during a violent thunderstorm, lightning struck federal land near the Hammond’s home, barns and stack yards of winter feed. The Hammonds started an emergency backfire on their private land to protect their home and buildings but which burned one acre of adjoining federal land before it could be contained. The BLM was notified of the burned acre of land. The backfire not only saved the Hammond’s home and barns but ultimately their grazing lands potentially protecting thousands of acres of federal land from the ravages of the wind-driven wildfire.
The BLM pursued criminal charges for the fire against Dwight and Steve in state court. District Attorney Tim Colahanreviewed the case and dismissed all charges against the Hammonds.
In 2010, before the statute of limitations had run on the 2001 fire, the BLM brought the Hammonds into federal court, indicting them on 9 charges relating to both fires. Rather than charging Dwight and Steve under the BLM’s own land-use statutes, prosecutors instead maliciously charged them as domestic “terrorists” under the Antiterrorism Act of 1996. This time the BLM succeeded in obtaining a conviction against Dwight Hammond, Jr., now 78, and Steven D. Hammond, 50. However, the government did offer to drop all charges if the Hammonds would simply sign over two-thirds of their ranch to the federal government.
Significantly, the Interior Department avoided bringing charges under their own statutes which specifically provide an exception for crimes attaching to fires started by ranchers who own grazing allotments in certain circumstances: “This section shall not apply in the case of a fire set by an allottee in the reasonable exercise of his property rights in the allotment,” 18U.S.C. § 1855.
Federal District Court Judge Michael Hogan stated at sentencing, “I will impose a sentence that I believe is defensible under the law, but also one that is defensible to my conscience.” Hogan specifically found, “It would be cruel and unusual punishment for this crime to give them the mandatory minimum of five years.” Steven was sentenced to one year; Dwight, 90 days, which they served. He also sentenced both Hammonds to three years of post-prison supervision and required them to surrender their firearms. The judge also allowed the men to stagger their sentences in order to keep operating their ranch.
Tragically, council for the Hammonds failed to raise critical defenses in pleadings, and pressured the Hammonds to take a midnight plea deal to a partial verdict. The Hammonds understood the plea to mean that the case was over once and for all. They did not realize that in signing the agreement they had waived all their rights to appeal but that the federal government’s right of appeal was retained. Once the ink was dry on the plea agreement the government prepared to appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In a separate but related civil case, the Hammonds were fined $400,000. The Hammonds signed this agreement under duress, giving the BLM the first-right-of-refusal should the Hammonds be forced to sell their ranch.
In 2015, the DOJ and DOI appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Court ordered the Hammonds to be re-sentenced for the full five-year term beginning January 4, 2016. Dwight and Steve are currently incarcerated in federal prison in Southern California.
Fast forward to July, 2018.
The Hammond’s are pardoned by President Trump on July 10, 2018.
On July 9, 2018, ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond were prisoners at the minimum-security federal prison on Terminal Island in San Pedro, serving five-year sentences for arson.
But on Wednesday, following a Tuesday pardon by President Trump, the father-and-son pair got to fly home in style to Burns, Ore., on an oil company’s private jet, riding alongside the company’s founder, Forrest Lucas — who used his relationship with Vice President Mike Pence to help secure the Hammonds’ release.
With the massive amounts of pardon requests the federal government receives every year, “It takes talking to someone to be able to get it done, and that’s what happened here,” said David Duquette, national strategic planner for Protect the Harvest, Lucas’ nonprofit advocacy group for ranchers and farmers. – LA Times
Protect The Harvest, founded by self-made millionaire Forrest Lucas, posted the following message of gratitude to President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on Facebook following the pardoning of the Hammonds.
Protect The Harvest posted this image of the Hammond’s flying home on the private jet of Vice President Mike Pence’s friend, Forrest Lucas, former long-haul trucker turned self-made millionaire CEO of Lucas Oil.
Mr. Lucas, a self-made multimillionaire with a sprawling empire that includes a ranch, an oil products company, several motor sports series, a television network, a film-production company and a well-funded activist and lobbying group with an anti-regulation, pro-rancher bent, has known the vice president for years.
Mr. Lucas, 76, founded Protect the Harvest, the activist group, to support ranchers, farmers and animal owners who oppose “radical groups” that seek to “pass laws or enact regulations that would restrict our rights, limit our freedoms, and hinder our access to safe, affordable food.”
Forrest Lucas, 70, is widely known for his sponsorship of the Indianapolis Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the 2012 Super Bowl). But few fans know of his journey from long-haul trucker to oil-products producer to race team sponsor. In 1989 he launched Lucas Oil Products, which now sells nearly 200 items in 27 countries.
Vice President Mike Pence was “very instrumental in helping to get this to the front and getting it out there” for a pardon by Trump, David Duquette said.