PORTLAND, Ore. – A witness testifying for the defence Monday in the trial of Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy and others charged in the armed takeover of an Oregon bird sanctuary said the place was peaceful during the occupation, a sharp contrast to what he saw as an over-the-top police response.
Pat Horlacher, of Burns, Oregon, said he drove to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge shortly after the occupation because he wanted to see for himself if reports of a dangerous situation were true.
The silversmith said he drove right in and met the Bundy brothers and Robert “LaVoy” Finicum. “It was as laid-back an environment as you could ever ask for,” he said.
Horlacher said he tried to meet Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward, but he had no luck getting through heavy security. He said key government buildings were protected by armed police and federal agents.
“The only thing I could compare it to was a scene out of “Red Dawn,” said Horlacher, referencing the 1984 movie in which Soviet soldiers invade a small Colorado town.
“You felt like you were invaded?” asked Ryan Bundy, who’s acting his own attorney.
“Absolutely,” Horlacher said.
He was among several witnesses Monday afternoon who provided a different view than the government of what took place during last winter’s standoff. While prosecutors have highlighted the amount of guns and ammunition seized at the refuge, defence witnesses were more likely to describe children playing in the snow than men pointing or firing weapons.
Seven defendants are charged with conspiring to impede U.S. Interior Department employees from doing their work at the refuge through intimidation, threats or force.
Five were also charged with possessing a firearm in a federal facility. That number was reduced to four Monday morning when U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown dismissed the charge against Shawna Cox, citing a lack of evidence.
Also Monday, Sheriff Ward returned to the stand about three weeks after he appeared as a witness for the prosecution.
Bundy went to Burns two months before the occupation in an attempt to get the sheriff to shield two Oregon ranchers from returning to federal prison to complete a mandatory-minimum sentence for arson.
The sheriff testified Monday that he initially thought Bundy didn’t have all the facts on the case. But a statement Bundy released on social media after the two met led him to conclude Bundy was dishonest, not misinformed.
Ammon Bundy’s lawyer, Marcus Mumford, reminded Ward he previously testified that he always felt comfortable speaking with Bundy. “Being comfortable talking to someone doesn’t make them honest,” Ward said.
Mumford tried to poke holes in Ward’s previous testimony that a show of hands revealed that about 85 per cent of people at a Jan. 6 community meeting wanted the occupiers to go home. He contended that some people raised their hands to the question of “How many want to work this out peacefully?” and then put them down when asked if they want the occupiers to leave.
A defence witness who was at the meeting, Kim Rollins, described a slight hesitation between the two questions. The video shown to jurors appeared to support his contention.
“I would describe it as a straw vote, to get a certain reaction,” he said.
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