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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Bundy Locked Down, but Henchmen Make Bail

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - Ammon Bundy's lawyers on Tuesday postponed their fight to get their client released pending appeal, while a federal judge released another of the militia man's co-defendants to await trial at home.

This past week, U.S. District Judge Stacie F. Beckerman ordered Bundy to remain in jail pending trial on charges of conspiracy to impede a federal officer from performing his duty. Bundy was scheduled to appeal that decision at a hearing Tuesday, but his lawyers announced shortly before the hearing that they needed more time "to gather further evidence of his statements and actions encouraging a peaceful protest and civil disobedience."

Also appearing at Tuesday's hearing were right-wing Internet radio talk show host Pete Santilli and Arizona militia man "Captain" Joseph O'Shaughnessy.

U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman agreed to release O'Shaughnessy under house arrest and scheduled another hearing for Thursday afternoon to decide whether to release Santilli.

Co-defendant Shawna Cox was released late on Jan. 29.

Beckerman had said that Cox would remain jailed until the last four militants holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge left or were arrested. But hours later, she reversed that decision and issued a written order of release.

At issue in Santilli's release were several statements he made on his YouTube radio show, "The Pete Santilli Show."

U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight pointed to one episode where Santilli claimed he buried unregistered guns in his backyard in California to avoid surrendering them under a restraining order that was later dismissed.

In another episode, Santilli said that if federal agents showed up at his house in the middle of the night, he would shoot them. And in a third episode, Santilli called the feds "pussies" and said, "I'll take care of your families."

Santilli claimed the government took all three statements out of context.

"He's a shock jock," Santilli's attorney Thomas Coan told Mosman. "The government combed through years of episodes of his show and found something inflammatory."

Coan said the comment about buried guns was a joke, and claimed Santilli said it to protect himself from the enemies he has made as an outspoken radio host.

"He wants those people to think he has plenty of guns," Coan said. "And of course he wouldn't really shoot federal agents."

As for the third statement, Coan said Santilli was expressing support for the families of his listeners, not malice toward the families of federal agents.

Mosman said he wasn't sure how much weight to give Santilli's statements.

"Other than Mr. Santilli's own words, this would be a classic case for release," Mosman said. "He's a veteran who is gainfully employed and has stable housing with a stable, secure person."


He added, "Separate from his vocation as a 'shock jock,' if somebody else made those statements who was a normal citizen - if they said, 'I buried my guns so I wouldn't have to surrender them,' if somebody else said, 'If the feds came through my door at 4 a.m. I'd shoot them,' it would negate all other evidence and they would be detained. The point of the knife here is, how much do I discard what you said that would keep somebody else detained because you are provocative?"

Mosman gave Coan two days to come up with arguments that would place Santilli's comments in a more understandable context.

"If, in context, I think that would were saying you would shoot those men, that you meant you would take care of their families, or that you actually did bury your guns, then you will be detained," Mossman said. "If I find that the context better explains these comments, then you will be released to home detention in Ohio."

"I'm just so scared for him," Deborah Jordan, Santilli's girlfriend and the co-host of his radio show, said in an interview. "That his words could come back and haunt him like that."

Jordan told Courthouse News that Santilli may have crossed the line that separates journalism from activism, but said he's not the only person to do so.

"Lots of people do that," Jordan said. "Michael Moore might be one."

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Barrow argued that Joe O'Shaughnessy, often pictured at the refuge dressed in military tactical gear and carrying an assault rifle, organized a paramilitary group staged at a tiny town between the refuge and nearby Burns, Oregon, that could rapidly deploy to protect the militants from law enforcement.

But O'Shaughnessy's attorney Amy Baggio painted a different picture.

She said O'Shaughnessy, a former emergency medical technician, disagreed with the occupation from the beginning and stayed to run a medical tent and to try to convince the Bundy brothers to end the standoff.

O'Shaughnessy teamed up with Gary Underhill, a retired Arizona sheriff, former member of the Army and the National Guard trained by the FBI to deescalate hostage situations and retired Nevada police officer Daniel Malavenda, Baggio said.

The three men stayed in Burns and traveled to the refuge every day during the month-long occupation in an attempt to help bring it to an end, Baggio told the judge.

Baggio said she interviewed Underhill on the phone.

"O'Shaughnessy repeatedly stated that the takeover was wrong," Baggio said Underhill told her. "He said 'Joe was with me 100 percent.' He said, 'Now the patriots would be associated with terrorists.'"

Ammon and Ryan Bundy confirmed O'Shaughnessy's position through their lawyers, saying he "disagreed with the occupation."

Regardless of O'Shaughnessy's personal views on the occupation, he still called for people to join up and organized a gun-toting group that could only euphemistically be called a "medical team," Barrow said.

"It would be great for your client if he went up there with flowers and peace symbols," Mosman told Baggio. "But the government says he was there as part of a group of armed men."

Still, Mosman agreed to release O'Shaughnessy under stringent conditions.

"I accept as true Mr. Barrow's argument that one can not be an occupier but still be up to your eyeballs in the conspiracy," Mosman said. "The danger is, there are two possibilities here. One is the peaceful one where you collect a bunch of civilians as a buffer to bear witness and help prevent any possible violence. I'm not here to comment on the wisdom of that.

"The other is much more dangerous - almost a competing paramilitary force to challenge law enforcement," Mosman continued. "But the government has not met its burden there to prove its claim that O'Shaughnessy's intent was to interpose armed men in a dicey situation with law enforcement."

O'Shaughnessy will be on house arrest at his mother's house in Arizona, except to appear at court dates in Portland. He will be under GPS monitoring and isn't allowed to contact any of his co-defendants.

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