Oregon refuge holdouts frustrate jailed protesters

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 03, 2016 8:11 PM

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) - In early January, occupiers of a wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon mulled how the siege would end and what would become of them, including facing prison or dying.

What they did not anticipate was an apparent splinter group of armed occupiers ignoring their pleas and refusing to leave the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Now frustration is mounting as the holdouts cloud the fate of nine former occupiers in custody, charged with conspiracy to impede federal officers. Two others were released on condition that they wear tracking devices as they await trial.

A judge has cited the continuing standoff as a major obstacle to the release of at least some of those who remain in custody.

Andrew Kohlmetz, an attorney for arrested protester Jason Patrick, referred to the holdouts as "four idiots" at odds with his client's aims.

"I can only say that it does impact everyone's chance at release," said Kohlmetz, whose client remained briefly at the refuge after state police shot one protester dead and arrested several others, including leader Ammon Bundy on Jan. 26.

From jail, Bundy asked through his attorney for the remaining occupiers to stand down, and Patrick was arrested soon after.

But the holdouts have ignored that plea, as Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and Oregon law enforcement continue to block access to the refuge 30 miles (48 km) from Burns in the state's rural east.

At a court hearing on Wednesday for Bundy and the other defendants, prosecutors revealed they had obtained a grand jury indictment against 16 people, including the defendants, said Bundy's attorney Mike Arnold.

Gerri Badden, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Portland, declined to disclose details and said the document would be unsealed on Thursday morning.

The four holdouts have been identified as Jeff Banta, 46, David Fry, 27, and a married couple, Sean Anderson, 47, and Sandy Anderson, 48, according to The Oregonian newspaper.

None of the four were among the original group of occupation leaders, according to a Reuters witness who spent a night with the occupiers in early January as they pondered their fate.

Sean Anderson has a warrant out for his arrest in his previous home state of Wisconsin on misdemeanor charges from 2014 of resisting an officer, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia, according to court records.

The occupiers took a stance reminiscent of the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over federal jurisdiction of millions of acres in the West.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen, Editing by Sara Catania and Cynthia Osterman)