Refuge manager, fish biologist tell jurors how they felt scared, violated during occupation

By Maxine Bernstein | The Oregonian/OregonLive March 07, 2017 at 12:27 PM

The manager of the Malheur National Wildife Refuge and its former fish biologist returned to the witness stand Tuesday morning in the government’s rebuttal to testify about the fears they felt just before and during the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Refuge manager Chad Karges, who was aware Ammon Bundy and followers were in the Burns area in late November and December 2015, said he placed loaded guns at every door of his home “just because of the threats I had seen” involving Bundy and his standoff with federal agents in Bunkerville, Nevada in 2014.

After Christmas 2015, Karges told his kids and grandkids not to venture into Burns.

Karges said he didn’t feel comfortable reporting to work at the refuge because of the presence of armed guards in the refuge tower and on its premises, as he’d seen in media reports.

Once Bundy and supporters had taken over the refuge on Jan. 2, 2016, Karges said he received a law enforcement briefing five days later. Based on that briefing, in which he learned of threats made by refuge occupiers, Karges said he ordered his staff to evacuate from Harney County.

Karges was not permitted by the judge to share the specific threat that law enforcement had shared with him on Jan. 7, 2016 : that occupiers planned to kidnap a refuge employee and exchange that employee for someone held in custody, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Barrow.

During cross-exam, Karges said it was his own decision to place guns by every door in his home, and that he had already left the county before Jan. 7, 2016.

Linda Beck testified that she bought a gun because she feared for her safety during the occupation.

Before the takeover, she said she noticed “militia was kind of building their presence” in and around Burns.

Asked if she felt comfortable going to work at the refuge, Beck said no. “I did not. I wanted to leave. I feared for my safety and the safety of my employees.”

Beck learned of the takeover on Jan. 2, 2016 via text message from a friend in WIsconson, she said.

Asked why she didn’t report to work then, Beck said she had seen pictures in social media “of people with sniper rifles in our tower,” and on the refuge grounds.

“It made me fee really scared and violated,” she said.

On Jan. 7, 2016, Beck said she learned that occupier Ryan Bundy had referred to her by her full name, “Linda Sue Beck,” and called her carp lady in a Reuters story which ran with photos of rifles resting against a pillar in her refuge office.

“I was very fearful,” she testified. “I ran out to my gate in my driveway and locked the gate.”

She said she also called her parents to protect them because she had heard a reporter from New York had contacted them.

“I was very unsettled and started feeling very unsafe,” she said.

The government rested their case shortly after the refuge employees’ testimony and the playing of a Jan. 9, 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting interview with Ryan Bundy.

Four defendants – Jason Patrick, Duane Ehmer, Jake Ryan and Darryl Thorn, are charged with conspiring to impede federal employees from doing their work at the refuge through intimidation, threat or force. Three face firearms charges, and two are charged with digging trenches on government property.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight then delivered his closing argument, which ran about an hour and 25 minutes.

“This case is about four defendants who went too far,” Knight said. They embraced occupation leader Ammon Bundy’s call to take a hard stand in the protest of the federal government and its prosecution of two Harney County ranchers, Dwight Hammond Jr. and son Steven Hammond. They were ordered to return to federal prison on Jan. 4, 2016 to serve out five-year sentences for setting fire to public land.

But they “pushed the limits of civil society,” he argued.

He advised jurors once again not to search for evidence of a formal agreement or contract reached between the defendants, but to evaluate all the evidence, the defendants and their alleged co-conspirators’ statements and social media posts and infer what occurred.

He urged them to consider there were armed guards stationed at the refuge tower and gates, strangers living and sleeping in refuge buildings and more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition found on the refuge property after the occupation ended.

“The only way to protest the Hammonds in the way these people wanted was to keep employees out,” of the refuge, Knight said.

“This case is not about the Hammonds,” he continued. “It’s what these defendants did with that motivation.”

Defense lawyers will provide their closing arguments separately after court resumes at 12:30 p.m.

— Maxine Bernstein

Posted in BLM, Court, Land, News, The Oregonian.

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