BURNS, Oregon — The protesters who took over a federal building in southeast Oregon did not accept the local sheriff’s offer for safe passage out of the state.
“During this morning’s press conference, the people on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge made it clear that they have no intention of honoring the sheriff’s request to leave,” according to a statement posted Friday afternoon on the Harney County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page. “Because of that, there are no planned meetings or calls at this time. However, the sheriff is keeping all options open.”
Sheriff Dave Ward met Thursday on a snow-covered road with leaders of the group called Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, including chief spokesman Ammon Bundy. The meeting was recorded and posted on YouTube.
“I think we need to find a peaceful resolution and help you guys get out of here,” Ward said Thursday.
‘We’re here for the people of Harney County’
Bundy repeatedly pressed Ward to address the group’s grievances, which include freeing two imprisoned ranchers and the federal government’s land use policies. The sheriff said he didn’t want to talk about that, saying “I didn’t come here to argue.”
“We’re here for the people of Harney County,” Bundy said on the video. “We’re here because the people have been ignored.”
About 20 members of the group moved into buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge last weekend and show no plans to leave. There’s so far been no evident police presence outside the snowy, desolate wildlife refuge, though reporters have come and gone.
During the meeting on the road, the sheriff did not say if he would file any criminal charges against members of the group and didn’t predict what federal authorities might do.
“I’m here to offer safe passage out,” the sheriff said. “Whatever the feds determine to do with that refuge stuff down there, right now is a good breaking point.”
A few days ago Bundy said the group would eventually leave.
“There is a time to go home. We recognize that. We don’t feel it’s quite time yet,” he said.
Governor, tribe urge group to leave
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has urged the protesters to leave, as have members of the Burns-Paiute Tribe, which used to live on the wildlife refuge land.
The protesters have repeatedly said they want two local ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond, freed from prison. The father and son were convicted of arson and given five-year prison sentences.
The Hammonds, who turned themselves in to authorities on Monday, have said they started a fire in 2001 to reduce the growth of invasive plants and to protect their property from wildfires, CNN affiliate KTVZ-TV reported.
But prosecutors said the Hammonds torched about 130 acres of public land in an attempt to cover up the poaching of deer on federal property.
Bundy claims the two ranchers were targeted for not selling land to the government.
The Hammonds, through their lawyer, say the protesters don’t speak for them.