This West Is OUR West

Trump considers pardon for Oregon ranchers


A photo of the Hammond family in happier times before Steven (second from left) and Dwight (fourth from left) were put in prison for setting fires on public land they graze.

 © Courtesy of Hammond Family


By Greg Henderson

June 18, 2018

Oregon ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr., and his son Steven, are among those President Trump is considering for presidential pardons.

The Washington Post reported Friday that the ranchers are on the President’s list, but Susie Hammond, Dwight’s wife, told the Oregonian/OregonLive, “I don’t know anything.” But, she said, “I have a sense that things are moving forward and I have faith in our president. If anyone is going to help them, he’d be the one.”

The Hammonds’ case spurred the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan 2, 2016, when armed militants seized the headquarters in Harney County, Ore. The leader of the occupation was Ammon Bundy, who also participated in the 2014 standoff at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada.

The Hammonds have been incarcerated since Jan. 4, 2016, after they were re-sentenced following their 2012 conviction for arson on public lands. Their case spurred outrage from many in the ranching community as it was believed the government was overly aggressive in pursuing the case.

The convictions stem from 2012, when both were found guilty of setting fires on federal land in 2001 where they had grazing rights, and Steven also was convicted of setting a second fire in 2006. The Hammonds argued in their defense the fires were set on their own property to destroy invasive species. The fire inadvertently burned onto public lands, destroying about 100 acres. Steven Hammond reported the fire to the BLM office in Burns, Ore.

Federal prosecutors said Steven started the 2006 fire to cover evidence of a deer he poached on BLM land. In both instances, prosecutors said it cost thousands of dollars to put out the fires, and also put federal employees at risk. In a plea deal, the two men agreed they would not appeal their sentence of the 2012 conviction, and they would pay $400,000 in restitution.

While the Hammonds were prosecuted under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, a Department of Justice news release said arson on federal land carries a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. However, Judge Michael Hogan said it would be "grossly disproportionate" to send the two to prison for five years.

Instead, Hogan sentenced Dwight Hammond to three months' imprisonment and Steven Hammond to a year and a day's imprisonment, which both men served.

The DOJ, however, appealed for a full sentence. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to a review of the case and District Chief Judge Ann Aiken went ahead with a full sentence – five years in federal prison for both men, minus time already served.

The Hammonds reported to Federal Correctional Institution, Terminal Island in California on January 4, as ordered. A few days earlier, the Hammonds also paid the federal government the remaining balance on the $400,000 court order for restitution related to the fires.

The request for a presidential pardon for the Hammonds is supported by the Oregon Farm Bureau, and the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. Media outlets such as the Oregonian, the Bend Bulleting, the Baker City Herald and the Capital Press, have also urged President Trump to grant clemency.