President Trump has pardoned two key figures in a controversial battle between the federal government and a multi-generational ranching family that caught the nation’s attention after a group of local rights’ activists conducted an armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge.
Dwight Hammond Jr., 76, and his son Steven Hammond, 49, were sentenced to five years in prison back in 2016 for setting a prescribed fire on their land, which crossed over into federally controlled Bureau of Land Management property, according to The Oregonian. The Hammonds claimed they were trying to rid their cattle grazing land in rural eastern Oregon of invasive species, but a prosecutor accused them of covering up illegal poaching activity.
In addition to the prison sentence, the ranching family lost their longtime grazing rights on the federal land around their property, deeply hampering their ability to make a living in the remote environment they had ranched and taken care of for generations.
In protest of their sentences, local rights’ activists from around the West — including the famous Bundy sons, themselves the subject of a previous standoff with the federal government — descended on the nearby Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and occupied it for 41 days, starting on Jan. 2, 2016.
The Hammonds themselves didn’t endorse the occupation — held in their honor — and resisted pressure from the occupiers to flee federal punishment. The father and son turned themselves in to authorities.
Photo: Cacophony/Wikimedia Commons
The occupation drew the eyes of the nation, as well as fierce debates over federal rights versus local rights. It fell apart after FBI agents ambushed a convoy of occupation leaders driving to a meeting in another town.
54-year-old Robert LaVoy Finicum, a spokesman for the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom and father of 11 children, was shot to death during a confrontation still cloaked in mystery, falsehoods, and accusations. Soon after, 27 occupiers were arrested.
Then on Tuesday, President Trump issued pardons to Dwight and Steven Hammond, calling them upstanding men who unfairly got the book thrown at them. The father and son were known by their neighbors as decent, sincere, and caring members of their community.
“The evidence at trial regarding the Hammonds’ responsibility for the fire was conflicting, and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges,” Trump pointed out in an official White House statement.
“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,” Trump said. “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.”
He pointed out that the Hammonds have already served out a few years of their sentences and have paid the U.S. government $400,000.
“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 president concluded. “Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency.”