BY MAXINE BERNSTEIN The Oregonian/OregonLive June 6, 2017
A federal judge on Thursday sentenced Eric Lee Flores to two years of probation, including five months of home detention, for his role in the January 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Flores, 23, was the second defendant to plead guilty on June 9, 2016, admitting he conspired to impede federal employees from carrying out their work at the federal wildlife sanctuary in Harney County through intimidation, threat or force.
In an interview with FBI agents, Flores said he brought up to seven guns — including two rifles and handguns — to the refuge and handed them out to other occupiers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel said. He made at least three trips to the refuge with a co-defendant and spent a lot of time in the refuge watchtower on guard duty before leaving Jan. 26, 2016, Gabriel said.
“I thought I was doing the right thing,” Flores said in court when he entered a guilty plea. “I thought it was public land.”
The 23-year-old lives on the Tualip Reservation in Washington and has been working for the Tualip natural resources department in its fish hatchery business, said his lawyer Ernest Warren Jr. He also has volunteered as an emergency medical technician with the Snohomish County Medical Reserve Corps, Warren said. He has a two-year-old child who was born around the time of the refuge takeover.
His lawyer called Flores’ participation in the occupation “aberrant behavior” and said the 30 days Flores was held in custody after his arrest was “enlightening” and “frightening” for him.
“This has brought embarrassment to him and his family and to his tribe,” Warren said. “He thought it was a First Amendment protest.”
Warren argued that home detention was unnecessary for his client, as he’s cooperated and met all the conditions of his pretrial release with no problems.
Yet U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown disagreed, asking Flores why he didn’t show for his initial sentencing date last week.
“I wrote the date down wrong,” responded Flores, dressed in a black blazer and standing beside his lawyer at the defense table. “I apologize for that.”
“Home detention is a form of impressing upon you that your conduct is being punished,” the judge told Flores. “In my judgment, it’s a reasonable interference with your liberty.”
As the judge did for co-defendant Geoffrey Stanek last week, Brown told Flores he could petition to the court after three months to have his home detention period reduced if he abides by the requirements.
Flores’ home detention period was cut to five months instead of six because he already served a month in custody, the prosecutor said.
Brown said she hoped Flores would remember the 30 tough days he sat in jail as a deterrent to repeat such behavior. “Remember that, the next time you see an invitation on Facebook – an invitation to do something your good judgment tells you not to do,” the judge said.
“You did play a role in a very serious episode that really disrupted the peace and the lives of many people in southeastern Oregon,” the judge said.
As conditions of his probation, he must not occupy, reside in or camp on any federal land, and he’s prohibited from entering any land owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Park Service or U.S. Forest Service without prior written approval of his probation officer.
The prosecutor, though, made it clear that the special conditions don’t prevent Flores, a tribal member, from being on tribal lands.