Monday, December 4, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Militia Members Balk at Shackles in Oregon Jail

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) - A family close to the Bundys harmonized on religious songs in the lobby of the federal courthouse while a handful of the erstwhile Oregon militia challenged the dissonance of being held in shackles while presumed innocent.

The seven siblings of the Sharp family sang about finding your way in the dark guided only by a flashlight. The eldest, Victoria Sharp, was in the truck driven by militia member LaVoy Finicum just before he was gunned down by the FBI.

In the courtroom, five of the 26 defendants charged with conspiracy to keep federal employees from doing their jobs during the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge groped their way through objections to U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown's description of their rights.

"You are presumed innocent," Brown said at the arraignment hearing on Wednesday. "That can only change in one of two ways. Either the government can prove that you are guilty of a crime or you can voluntarily and knowingly give up that presumption of innocence by pleading guilty. But I don't expect any of you to choose the second option."

One by one, Brown asked all of the defendants how they answered the charges against them and whether they understood their rights.

They all pleaded not guilty and most answered Brown's questions with either a curt "yes ma'am" or a nod of their heads.

But five defendants - Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan, David Fry, Ryan Payne and Jason Patrick - took issue with the fact that, despite Brown's assertion that they are innocent until proven guilty, they're locked up.

Montana electrician and militia member Ryan Payne was the first to speak on that point.

"It's difficult to understand the presumption of innocence when I've spent the last month in jail, led around in chains," Payne told the judge.

"I understand your point," Brown said. "Thank you."

Next up was Ryan Bundy.

"We are being treated as guilty, so I don't understand the presumption of innocence," he said.

Jason Patrick was more pointed in his criticism.

"I understand I have no rights at all because the federal government can do whatever it wants," Patrick said to a smattering of applause.

Final Malheur Refuge holdout David Fry echoed the other defendants' concerns.

"I understand my rights," Fry said. "It's just weird to be presumed innocent while I'm shackled up."

After everyone had confirmed their understanding of their rights, ringleader Ammon Bundy asked if he could address the court. His lawyer, Lissa Casey, explained that he wanted to make a statement about his belief that his continued custody violates the presumption of innocence.

"No," Brown said, denying Ammon Bundy's request to speak.

Casey said Bundy wanted to be released from jail so he could walk his lawyers through the crime scene at the refuge. The FBI will escort attorneys of all defendants through the refuge between noon on Thursday and 5 p.m. on Friday.

Brown also denied that request.

The current charges carry a maximum of six years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

But U.S. Attorneys Ethan Knight and Geoffrey Barrow said Wednesday that more charges were on the way, now that the FBI has wrapped up its processing of the crime scene at the refuge.

That chapter of the investigation may be over, but there is still a lot of work to do before the government will be ready for trial, Knight told Brown.

"The investigation is ongoing," Knight said. "There are firearms to process, hundreds of sensitive cultural artifacts to review and dozens of electronics to process. This is unprecedented in terms of the volume of information at the crime scene."

Knight said the new indictment, which will consolidate all 26 defendants and introduce new charges, would likely be ready by mid-June.

Brown wasn't having it.

"I don't believe I can compel the government to bring charges against the defendants, but I can say that it had better do so promptly, especially with the assertion that people who are presumed innocent are in custody. Ninety days is simply unbelievable to me. You need to get your resources in line."

The trial is set to begin April 29, but the government has asked Brown to waive the defendants' right to a trial within 70 days of their initial appearances because of the complexity of the case. In fact, the feds have suggested the government may not be ready for trial until the spring of 2017.

Brown balked at such a long delay, but asked for guidance on the decision.

"We are certainly not going to wait until the early months of 2017 to begin. But I do want to hear about relevant case law, especially from the Ninth Circuit. Is there precedent where the judges found error in a decision to declare complexity in cases similar to this one?" Brown said.

As the hearing ended, a woman in the gallery stood. Dressed in a pink sweatshirt emblazoned with Minnie Mouse, who was wearing a dress printed with the American flag, the woman held a sign overhead.

"Release our people," the sign read.

Follow @@karinapdx
Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.