Plains Man Acquitted of Conspiracy in Oregon Standoff Trial

Jake Ryan convicted of lesser charge a year after month-long standoff at wildlife refuge

By Justin Franz

A 26-year-old Plains man was convicted of damaging government property but acquitted of two other charges a year after he took part in a month-long standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge.

Jake Edward Ryan was acquitted of conspiracy to impede officers and possession of a firearm or dangerous weapon at a federal facility in a U.S. federal court last week in Portland, Ore. Ryan was one of four defendants on trial, the Oregonian reports.

Two of the men, Jason Patrick and Darryl Thorn, who were considered organizers of the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, were convicted of conspiracy. A third man, Duane Ehmer, was acquitted of the conspiracy charge along with Ryan, although Ehmer was convicted of possessing a firearm at a federal facility.

The trial came four months after the standoff’s primary organizer Ammon Bundy and six co-defendants were acquitted of the same charges.

In January 2016, Bundy led a group of armed militants to the remote bird refuge in eastern Oregon to protest federal land restrictions and the imprisonment of two local ranchers who were convicted of burning government grasslands. Bundy and his followers stayed at the refuge for more than a month until most of them surrendered to federal agents. One occupier, LaVoy Finicum, was shot and killed when he allegedly challenged officers at a roadblock during the conclusion of the standoff.

Ryan was among the more than two-dozen people charged following the standoff. According to court documents, Ryan used heavy equipment to damage an archaeological site considered sacred to the Burns Paiute Tribe, resulting in more than $1,000 worth of damage. Media reports suggest that Ryan had been digging latrines near a makeshift camping area.

In March 2016, an arrest warrant was issued for Ryan’s arrest, and many believed he was hiding out in Sanders County. Soon after, Ryan’s family issued a statement on social media stating that the man would not turn himself in and that “the arrests stop here.” The family’s position had local law enforcement worried that anti-government protesters would converge on Sanders County, and Sheriff Tom Rummel urged Ryan’s supporters to stay put, saying their arrival would only “complicate” matters.

In April, authorities found Ryan sleeping in a stranger’s shed in Clark County, Washington. When he was discovered, he had a loaded .45-caliber handgun and several knives, according to the Associated Press.

During the 10-day trial, federal prosecutors tried to convince the jury that the wildlife refuge occupiers used guns to threaten and intimidate federal employees from doing their job. Closing arguments were made early last week, and the jury deliberated for two-and-a-half days before delivering their verdicts on March 10.

In a statement to the Oregonian, Jake Ryan’s attorney Jesse Merrithew called the verdict a “compromise” and that he was disappointed his client was convicted of felony depredation of government property, a charge that could bring up to six years in prison. The attorney said that Ryan and others dug the trenches because they were worried the FBI was going to raid the refuge.

“They were simply terrified, trying to do what they had to do to survive,” Merrithew said.

Ryan and the others will be sentenced later this year.

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