Dwight and Steve Hammond, the father-and-son cattle ranchers from Oregon whose case sparked the armed Bundy showdown with the federal government, have been granted full pardons by President Donald Trump, with the White House deriding their sentences as “unjust.”
The prosecution “sparked the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon,” according to The Statesman Journal. The father and son duo were convicted of intentionally and maliciously setting fires on public lands. The occupation lasted 41 days.
The case spawned the Ammon Bundy protest at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near the Hammond ranch in southeastern Oregon. Those protesters in January and February of 2016 argued the Hammonds “were victims of federal overreach.” The Hammonds’ case drew the interest of armed militia groups that oppose the Bureau of Land Management, including the family of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. He also led a tense standoff with the BLM and federal authorities in 2014.
The White House press release on July 9, 2018 said that Trump had signed full pardons (known as Executive Grants of Clemency) for Dwight Lincoln Hammond Jr., and his son, Steven Hammond. “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 release says. “The evidence at trial regarding the Hammonds’ respomsibility for the fire was conflicting, and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Press Release Criticizes the Obama Administration’s Appeal in the Case
According to the release, when Dwight Hammond and his son were originally sentenced, 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.’”
The release says the judge then imposed “significantly lesser sentences,” but the Obama administration “filed an overzealous appeal that resulted in the Hammonds being sentenced to five years in prison.”
You can read the original complaint in the case here:
“This was unjust,” The White House release says.
2. The White House Praises the Hammonds as ‘Family Men’
According to the release, Dwight Hammond, 76, has served three years in prison. Steven Hammond, 49, has served four years. They also paid $400,000 to the United States “to settle a related civil suit.”
“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,” said the release. “Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these grants of Executive Clemency.”
The Bundy occupation ended when Bundy was arrested in a traffic stop; Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, an occupier with Bundy, “was fatally shot that day by Oregon State Police,” The Chicago Tribune reports.
3. The Hammond Family Matriarch Called the Decision ‘Wonderful’
Susie Hammond, who is the wife of Dwight and mother of Steven, told Oregon Live that she “was sound asleep Tuesday morning and awakened by a call from U.S. Rep. Greg Walden.”
“He said it’s a done deal, the papers were signed,” she told the newspaper. “We’ve been waiting a long time. I think it’s wonderful.”
“Unlike some cases where clemency may outrage the community, clemency for the Hammonds would be embraced by the Oregon community, both rural and urban,” Larry Matasar, Steven Hammond’s attorney, wrote in the clemency petition, according to Oregon Live.
4. The Eastern Oregon Ranchers Were Accused of Setting Fires on Federal Land for Which They Had Grazing Rights
According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2015, Dwight Lincoln Hammond, Jr., then 73, and his son, Steven Dwight Hammond, then 46, were sent to prison “for arsons they committed on federal lands.”
A jury sitting in Pendleton, Oregon found the Hammonds guilty of the arsons after a two-week trial in June 2012, the release says. “The trial involved allegations that the Hammonds, owners of Hammond Ranches, Inc., ignited a series of fires on lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), on which the Hammonds had grazing rights leased to them for their cattle operation.”
The jury convicted both of the Hammonds of “using fire to destroy federal property for a 2001 arson known as the Hardie-Hammond Fire, located in the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area,” the release says.
“Witnesses at trial, including a relative of the Hammonds, testified the arson occurred shortly after Steven Hammond and his hunting party illegally slaughtered several deer on BLM property. Jurors were told that Steven Hammond handed out ‘Strike Anywhere’ matches with instructions that they be lit and dropped on the ground because they were going to ‘light up the whole country on fire.'”
One witness testified that he “barely escaped the eight to ten foot high flames caused by the arson. The fire consumed 139 acres of public land and destroyed all evidence of the game violations,” the release continues.
“After committing the arson, Steven Hammond called the BLM office in Burns, Oregon and claimed the fire was started on Hammond property to burn off invasive species and had inadvertently burned onto public lands,” the release says. “Dwight and Steven Hammond told one of their relatives to keep his mouth shut and that nobody needed to know about the fire.”
That wasn’t all. “The jury also convicted Steven Hammond of using fire to destroy federal property regarding a 2006 arson known as the Krumbo Butte Fire located in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Steen Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Area,” according to the release.
“An August lightning storm started numerous fires and a burn ban was in effect while BLM firefighters fought those fires. Despite the ban, without permission or notification to BLM, Steven Hammond started several ‘back fires’ in an attempt save the ranch’s winter feed. The fires burned onto public land and were seen by BLM firefighters camped nearby. The firefighters took steps to ensure their safety and reported the arsons.”
5. The Court of Appeals Argued the Sentences Were Not ‘Grossly Disproportionate to the Offense’
The Hammonds had lost in the court system. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the federal law, reasoning that “given the seriousness of arson, a five-year sentence is not grossly disproportionate to the offense,” says the old DOJ press release.
In March 2015, the release says, “the Supreme Court rejected the Hammonds’ petitions for certiorari.”
“We all know the devastating effects that are caused by wildfires. Fires intentionally and illegally set on public lands, even those in a remote area, threaten property and residents and endanger firefighters called to battle the blaze,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Billy Williams in the 2015 release.
“Congress sought to ensure that anyone who maliciously damages United States’ property by fire will serve at least 5 years in prison. These sentences are intended to be long enough to deter those like the Hammonds who disregard the law and place fire fighters and others in jeopardy.”