Jailed Oregon militia leader urges followers to leave wildlife refuge
Keith Ridler and Terrence Petty, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, January 27, 2016 1:24PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 27, 2016 11:26PM EST
BURNS, Ore. - A day after eight members of an armed anti-government group were arrested, their jailed leader on Wednesday urged a handful of remaining militants to abandon the Oregon wildlife refuge they have occupied for more than three weeks and where they are now surrounded by federal agents.
After militant leader Ammon Bundy made his first court appearance in Portland on Wednesday, his attorney, Mike Arnold, read this statement from his client: "Please stand down. Go home and hug your families. This fight is now in the courts."
It was unclear whether the remnant of Bundy's followers still holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge south of Burns was ready to heed his advice.
Meanwhile, details began to emerge about the confrontation Tuesday on a remote highway that resulted in the arrest of Bundy and other leading figures in the group of occupiers, and in the death of militant Robert Finicum.
Bundy followers gave conflicting accounts of how Finicum died. One said Finicum charged at FBI agents, who then shot him. A member of the Bundy family said Finicum did nothing to provoke the agents.
An Oregon man who says he witnessed the shootout says he heard about a half-dozen shots but didn't see anyone get hit, and that the shooting happened quickly - over maybe 12 or 15 seconds. Raymond Doherty told KOIN-TV (http://is.gd/AgNSdm) that he was about 100 feet back and couldn't see who specifically was shooting. But, he added, "I saw them shooting at each other."
There was no immediate way to confirm the accounts. Authorities refused to release any details about the encounter or even to verify that it was Finicum who was killed.
Also on Wednesday, a federal judge in Portland unsealed a criminal complaint that said the armed group had explosives and night-vision goggles and that they were prepared to fight at the refuge or in the nearby town of Burns.
Someone told authorities about the equipment on Jan. 2, when the group took over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, according to the document.
Bundy and the seven others are charged with felony counts of "conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from their official duties through the use of force, intimidation, or threats."
The criminal complaint stresses that point. It states that the 16 employees at the wildlife refuge "have been prevented from reporting to work because of threats of violence posed by the defendants and others occupying the property."
Federal law officials and Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward held a news conference on Wednesday in which they called on the rest of the occupiers to go home. There is a huge law enforcement presence in the region, and the FBI has now set up checkpoints outside the refuge.
FBI agent Greg Bretzing said people could leave through checkpoints "where they will be identified." He did not say whether any of them face arrest. He said negotiators were available to talk if they have "questions or concerns."
Bretzing also defended the FBI-led operation that resulted in the arrest of Bundy and other leaders, and in the death of Finicum. "I will say that the armed occupiers were given ample opportunities to leave peacefully," he said.
Ward said multiple law-enforcement agencies put together "the best tactical plan they could."
Bundy followers took to social media to offer conflicting accounts of Finicum's final moments.
In a video posted to Facebook, Mike McConnell said he was driving a vehicle carrying Ammon Bundy and another occupier, Brian Cavalier. He said Finicum was driving a truck and with him were Ryan Bundy - Ammon's brother - as well as three others.
He said the convoy was driving through a forest when they were stopped by agents in heavy-duty trucks. He said agents first pulled him out of the vehicle, followed by Ammon Bundy and Cavalier.
When agents approached the truck driven by Filicum, he drove off with officers in pursuit. McConnell said he did not see what happened next, but he heard from others who were in that vehicle that they encountered a roadblock.
The truck got stuck in a snowbank, and Finicum got out and "charged them. He went after them," McConnell said.
Relatives of Ammon Bundy offered similar accounts, but they said Finicum did nothing to provoke FBI agents.
Briana Bundy, a sister of Ammon Bundy, said he called his wife after his arrest. He said the group was stopped by state and federal officers.
She said people in the two vehicles complied with instructions to get out with their hands up.
"LaVoy shouted, 'Don't shoot. We're unarmed,' " Briana Bundy said in an interview with The Associated Press. "They began to fire on them. Ammon said it happened real fast."
"Ammon said, 'They murdered him in cold blood. We did everything they asked, and they murdered him. We complied with their demands,' " she said.
McConnell had a different perspective.
"Any time someone takes off with a vehicle away from law enforcement after they've exercised a stop, it's typically considered an act of aggression, and foolish," he said in the Facebook video.
McConnell said he was questioned by authorities, and he believes he was not charged because he was not considered a leader of the group. Briana Bundy confirmed that McConnell was in the convoy on Tuesday.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy are the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was involved in a high-profile 2014 standoff with the government over grazing rights.
The group, which has included people from as far away as Michigan, calls itself Citizens for constitutional Freedom It came to the frozen high desert of eastern Oregon to decry what it calls onerous federal land restrictions and to object to the prison sentences of two local ranchers convicted of setting fires.
Associated Press writers Ken Ritter in Las Vegas, Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, and Martha Bellisle in Seattle contributed to this report.