President Donald Trump granted pardons on Tuesday to father-and-son cattle ranchers in southeastern Oregon. Father and son – Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond were sentenced to serve prison time on two separate occasions for the same charges of arson on public lands.
The charges against the Hammonds for a fire that spread to a small portion of neighboring public grazing land. This incident in part led to the protest at the Bundy ranch. The return to prison of Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond was the spark that led to a 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in early 2016.
That occupation led to the s******g d***h of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, a rancher who acted as the protesters’ spokesman. Finicum’s m****r by a state trooper during an encounter between the armed occupation group and law enforcement led to charges against an FBI special agent.
Much of this protest and occupation was indicative of a broader frustration that has been building across the West over federal land control. The federal government owns significant land in the West, which has led to anger from many ranchers over federal policies, a dispute that is often overlooked in other parts of the country.
“The Hammonds are multi-generation cattle ranchers in Oregon imprisoned in connection with a fire that leaked onto a small portion of neighboring public grazing land,” the White House said in a statement. “The evidence at trial regarding the Hammonds’ responsibility for the fire was conflicting, and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges.”
In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said an “overzealous appeal” of the Hammonds’ original sentences during the Obama administration, which sent them back to prison, was “unjust.”
Sanders stated of the pardon – “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.”
Fox News reports –
“President Trump just signed the order granting clemency to 76-year-old Dwight Hammond and his son, Steven Hammond, 49, who were convicted of arson in 2012 for fires that burned on federal land in 2001 and 2006. Though they served their original sentences for the conviction — Dwight serving three months, Steven serving one year — an appellate judge ruled in 2015 that the terms were too short under federal minimum sentencing laws and the Hammonds were resentenced to serve the mandatory minimum.”
The conviction of the Hammonds has drawn significant rebuke from the local community and there have been accusations that the family was aggressively prosecuted using anti-terrorism statutes because they were outspoken about public land use in rural Oregon.
Dwight and Steven, admitted in a 2012 court case, to lighting two different fires, both of which were originally started on the Hammonds’ private property. The first fire was a planned burn in 2001 on Hammonds’ own property in an effort to reduce juniper trees that are considered invasive in that part of the country. That fire burned outside the Hammonds’ private property line. As a result, the fire encompassed approximately 138 acres of unfenced BLM land before the Hammonds extinguished the fire. No BLM firefighters were needed to help extinguish the fire and no fences were damaged.
According to Susan, Dwight’s wife and Steven’s mother – “They called and got permission to light the fire,” explaining this is a customary practice among ranchers conducting range management burns which is a common practice in the area.
Susan explained, “We usually called the interagency fire outfit – a main dispatch – to be sure someone wasn’t in the way or that weather would be a problem.” She stated that Steven was told the BLM was also planning to conduct a burn of their own on the same day somewhere in that region and there would be no problem with the Hammonds going ahead with the planned fire on their property as well. The information from this phone conversation was included as part of the court transcript.
Cross-examination of a witness for the prosecution further revealed an admission from a range conservationist by the name of Mr. Ward, in which he stated the 2001 fire improved the rangeland conditions on BLM. His testimony is part of the official court record.
Former range technician and watershed specialist, Erin Maupin was a former BLM employee, resigning in 1999. She states that collaborative burns between private ranchers and the BLM are common, rising to popularity in the late 1990s due to local university extension researchers and their recommendations to use these burns as a means to manage invasive juniper that steal water from grass and other ground cover.
Maupin states – “Because private and federal land is intermingled, collaborative burns were much more effective than individual burns that would cover a smaller area. Prescribed burns on federal land in their area have all but stopped due to pressure from “special interest groups.”
As a result of meddling from these special interest groups, wildfires now burn much hotter due to a “ladder” of material on the ground – grass, brush, and trees. Maupin states – “The fires now burn really hot and they sterilize the ground. Then you have a weed patch that comes back.”
However, planned burns in cooler weather like the Hammonds chose to do improves the quality of the forage, as well as making for a better sage grouse habitat by removing juniper trees that suck up water and house raptors – a sage grouse predator.
Ruthie Danielson, a neighbor of the Hammonds with bordering property confirmed this practice, stating – “Juniper encroachment had become an issue on the forefront and was starting to come to a head. We were trying to figure out how to deal with it on a large scale. In 1999, the BLM started to try to do large scale burn projects. We started to be successful on the Steens Mountain especially when we started to do it on a large watershed scale as opposed to trying to follow property lines.
In 1999, the BLM started to try to do large scale burn projects. We started to be successful on the Steens Mountain especially when we started to do it on a large watershed scale as opposed to trying to follow property lines.”
Susan states the second fire took place in 2006 and was started by Steven as a backfire in an effort to protect their private property from lightning fires. Steven started several “backfires” in an attempt to save the ranch’s winter feed. The “backburn” firebreak worked and protected the Hammond’s ranch.
She recalled the events that took place stating – “There was fire all around them that was going to burn our house and all of our trees and everything. The opportunity to set a back-fire was there and it was very successful. It saved a bunch of land from burning.”
The BLM claimed that a single acre of federal land was burned by the Hammonds’ backfire, land which the Hammonds paid for grazing rights on prior. Though according to Susan and others attempting to determine which fire actually burned which land is “a joke” because due to the lightning storms – the reason for the backfire in the first place – the fire was burning in every direction.
Nevertheless, BLM firefighters saw the backburn and called it into their headquarters as an “arson.” The US Attorney for the state of Oregon indicted and tried the two men on charges of arson against federal property along with nine additional charges. A jury convicted the two men on only two of the charges, for starting the fires which they readily admitted to starting in the first place.
Arson against federal property calls for a mandatory minimum sentence of five years prison, though the Hammonds were able to successfully argue before the court through their attorneys that such a mandatory sentence was unconstitutional and the judge agreed. As a result, the judge sentenced both men to less than the five-year minimum sentence. Dwight serving three months, Steven serving one year.
However, the U.S. attorney appealed the sentence to the Ninth Circuit. In 2015 an appellate judge with the Ninth Circuit District Court ruled the terms were too short under federal minimum sentencing laws.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned that “given the seriousness of arson, a five-year sentence is not grossly disproportionate to the offense.” The court vacated the original sentences and ordered that the Hammonds be re-sentenced “in compliance with the law.”
That sentence to federal prison for the Hammonds then prompted the Bundy family of Nevada to join with local militiamen to take over the headquarters of the wildlife refuge, vowing to occupy the remote federal outpost 50 miles southeast of Burns until justice was served. Approximately 300 militia members and local citizens, including ranchers, marched through burns in protest of the prosecution of Dwight and Steven.
A federal judge later dismissed all charged against rancher Cliven Bundy two of his sons and another person citing “flagrant prosecutorial misconduct” in her decision.
Fox News reported –
“U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro on Dec. 20 declared a mistrial in the high-profile case. It was only the latest, stunning development in the saga of the Nevada rancher, and served as a repudiation of the federal government. Navarro accused prosecutors of willfully withholding evidence from Bundy’s lawyers, in violation of the federal Brady rule.
The Brady rule, named after the landmark 1963 Supreme Court case known as Brady v. Maryland, holds that failure to disclose such evidence violates a defendant’s right to due process.
Navarro had suspended the trial earlier and warned of a mistrial when prosecutors released information after a discovery deadline. Overall, the government was late in handing over more than 3,300 pages of documents. Further, some defense requests for information that ultimately came to light had been ridiculed by prosecutors as “fantastical” and a “fishing expedition.”
“Either the government lied or [its actions were] so grossly negligent as to be tantamount to lying,” Napolitano said. “This happened over and over again.”
Navarro said Monday it was clear the FBI was involved in the prosecution and it was not a coincidence that most of the evidence that was held back – which would have worked in Bundy’s favor – came from the FBI, AZCentral reported.”
As an American, I am dismayed to learn of the pardons issued to Dwight and Steven Hammond. As an Oregonian, I'm disgusted. They are arsonists and have caused nothing but harm to our state and country. What of the jobs lost, the laws broken and the money spent on these criminals?
— Shelley Engle (@shellspdx) July 10, 2018
So, Trump just pardoned Dwight and Steven Hammond, the 2 arsonists at the center of the Bundy militia stand off, presumably because he hadn't done something to ingratiate himself to white nationalists in a whole 12 hours.
— Drew Gibson (@SuppressThis) July 10, 2018
Your takeaway from the Dwight and Steven Hammond pardons is that white guys can be forgiven for any crime as long as they wear cowboy hats doing it
— Matt Osborne (@OsborneInk) July 10, 2018
There is no reason to pardon Dwight and Steven Hammond.
They broke the law. They are being punished according to the law.
You cannot claim to be the party of "law and order" while ripping children away from legal asylum applicants and pardoning convicted arsonists.
— Nunca Trump (@NeverTrumpTexan) July 10, 2018
The White House is now pardoning these two men and attempting to right significant wrongs done to the men and their families. It is true that it seems people only consider injustice when it directly effects them but the truth is injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere. When certain groups of people are targeted, how long before that becomes you or me?