Malheur Defense Starts With a Bang
By Shari Dovale
Today began the defense case in the Malheur Protest Trial in Portland. The jury heard a 40 minute audio recording of a call between FBI Negotiator Christopher Luh and Ammon Bundy.
Bundy explained to Luh how the protesters were cleaning the refuge, making repairs and working with the community. We heard Ammon estimate that about 1,000 community members had come to the refuge and shared information. One of the most prominent stories that Ammon shared on this call was how the “Fires have been so destructive to them and how it appears that the Bureau of Land Management is only there to make money on the fires.”
“They’re not there to put the fires out,” Bundy explained. He then went on to give statistics on the poor management of the BLM versus the local volunteer fire group. They have a track record of keeping the fires down to less than a thousand acres when the volunteers are on it, but “when the Bureau of Land Management firefighters are on it there’s hundreds of thousands of acres.”
Another powerful witness was Sheila Warren, an elder with the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians. She testified that, after hearing news reports of what was happening at Malheur, she decided to investigate the events herself. She was very concerned for the reported abuse of the Paiute artifacts. She arrived on January 24th and spent several hours overall.
Warren testified that she went into an office building and never saw damage, the people were respectful, the refuge was clean, and the general atmosphere was open and responsive. She also testified that she never saw any guns during her time there. This part of her testimony was important because she said that she specifically looked for weapons, due to the media reports.
She reported that the artifacts were not being abused and she tried repeatedly to reach the Burns Paiute Tribal Chair, Charlotte Rodrique, though she was unsuccessful.
After leaving the refuge and returning home, Warren testified of a phone call she received from FBI Agent Ronnie Walker. He did not immediately identify himself to her but did attempt to bully her into talking to him. Walker told this Tribal Elder that she did not have a choice but to talk to him, and she was made to feel as if she did something wrong by visiting the refuge.
Judge Anna Brown did not want to let the jury hear this information, but Tiffany Harris, Shawna Cox’s attorney, did a wonderful job in questioning and getting the information presented. Warren was able to present the fact that she felt threatened by Agent Walker.
There have been several FBI agents testifying during this trial. Ronnie Walker has been treated very special by the court in that he has been allowed to sit through each day in the courtroom, listening to all the testimony, before he himself testified, repeatedly. Not even the other agents have received that privilege Certainly no regular citizen witnesses would be allowed this same benefit.
That isn’t the only unusual behavior by the FBI during this trial. Agent Lapp is a prime example of the disrespect the FBI has for the jury and these proceedings. He was assigned to this case in November 2015. However, this trained investigator was not able to recall most details of which he was questioned. He could not remember who’s Facebook accounts were being reviewed, other than Ammon’s. He couldn’t even remember when he started watching these accounts.
When questioned about the government informants at the refuge, his memory got even worse. He couldn’t remember how many informants there were, or who they were, or much about them in general. He was finally prompted to reveal that he saw a written proposal to pay Mark McConnell for being a government informant.
Several agents claimed to “not recall” specifics of their investigations, except when prompted by their “302” reports. These reports are the written summaries they fill out about witness interviews. It seems to me, when they are called to testify, they should at least review their notes, reports, or even the case files, to prepare for their testimony. Too many times today they appeared incompetent by falling back on the “I do not recall” answers.
Tomorrow will be another big day for the defense. Sheriff David Ward will return from Harney County. Reverend Franklin Graham is also expected to testify, as well as the possibility of Ammon Bundy taking the stand.
Judge Anna Brown has begun to push the defense to make a minimal case and wrap it up by early next week. Today was the first day, and they are not in court on Friday. So, 2 days this week, maybe 2 days next week, is a dramatic shortening of their evidence.
There is a video that the defense wants to admit and show the jury, but speculation is running that Judge Brown will not allow it, as it will just lengthen the case. Yes, she can be very intimidating to attorneys. However, their future does not trump these defendant’s freedom.
I hope they get their full day in court.