Monday, 21 January, 2019

Trump Pardons Oregon Cattle Ranchers, Citing ‘Overzealous Appeal’ by Obama Administration

Justin Sullivan  Getty Images North America Justin Sullivan Getty Images North America
Melinda Barton | 11 July, 2018, 06:25

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump granted clemency to Dwight Lincoln Hammond Jr., 76, and his son, Steven Hammond, 49, two OR ranchers convicted of arson for the 2001 Hardie-Hammond Fire.

The president granted clemency for Dwight Hammond, 76, and his son Steven, 49, who were convicted of arson charges in 2012 and imprisoned.

The Hammonds said they started a fire on their property in 2001 to protect it from wildfires and reduce the growth of invasive plants, but that the fire got out of hand, CNN affiliate KTVZ reported.

After their lawyers argued against the five-year minimum sentence, a judge granted them much lighter terms - but federal prosecutors won an appeal and the Hammonds were required to serve the full five years. However, in October 2015, a federal appeals court ordered them to be resentenced to the mandatory minimum.

"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", the statement concluded.

Protesters who rallied to support the Hammonds included Ammon Bundy, who was part of the self-styled militia that broke into the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, beginning a 41-day standoff with the USA government over how it handles rangelands throughout the Western states.

"The Hammonds were serial arsonists who stole from U.S. taxpayers for years", former federal prosecutor Dwight Holton told KGW when he heard the news. The pair had also coughed up $400,000 to settle a civil suit with the feds.

In a statement on Tuesday, the White House said the decision was "unjust" and that the fire had burned only "a small portion" of public land.

"Our family is grateful to the president and all who worked to make this possible", the Hammond family said in a statement.

In 2016, as a result of their sentencing, Ammon Bundy gathered supporters and took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon.

Prosecutors alleged in the indictment at the time that the Hammond family set fire to the rangeland after complaining the BLM was taking too long to complete required environmental studies before conducting controlled burn operations.

The pardons are Trump's latest show of wielding his presidential power to grant clemency, which critics say intends to dramatize his own complaints of being the victim of a "witch hunt" by USA prosecutors.

Most of the protesters at the Malheur site were acquitted of charges the government brought against them.

Bundy and his supporters were eventually arrested, majority during a confrontation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and state police on a snow-covered roadside where a spokesman for the group, Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, was shot dead.

Dwight Hammond Jr. greets protesters outside his home in Burns, Oregon on January 2, 2015.