Mugshots of Malheur National Wildlife Occupiers.
BURNS, Oregon -- The FBI announced that the participants in the recent armed-standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge left what’s described as “significant amounts of human feces” on or near a "sensitive cultural site." That's according to court documents obtained by Reuters.
In the court filing acquired by Reuters, the news agency reports U.S. Attorney Billy Williams of Oregon wrote "occupiers appear to have excavated two large trenches and an improvised road on or adjacent to grounds containing sensitive artifacts."
The announcement comes as the FBI is working with the Burns Paiute Tribe to determine the extent of the damage caused by the occupiers to the tribal artifact and burial ground located on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
The six-week standoff led to the arrest of at least 12 people, all of whom are charged with a felony count of conspiracy to interfere with federal workers. It is unclear if the occupiers will face additional criminal charges stemming from the discovery of human feces at culturally significant sites. They could face additional charges under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, its purpose is "to protect irreplaceable archaeological resources and sites on federal, public, and Indian lands."
The Department of Justice website states that for an act to be punishable under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act “the act must occur on public lands for ARPA jurisdiction to attach. Such lands include lands owned and administered by the United States as part of the National Park Service, National Wildlife Refuge System.” Clearly the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge meets this criteria. Additionally, the violation in question must “excavate, remove, damage ... alter or deface an archaeological resource or attempt to do so.” (16 U.S.C. § 470ee(a))
Depending on the severity, ARPA violations can carry either a felony or a misdemeanor charge. Charges can also be pursued civilly if determined to be appropriate or necessary.
Per the U.S. Justice Department, elements of an ARPA violation include the following:
“The act must involve an archaeological resource more than 100 years old. "Archaeological Resource" is defined as: (1) material remains of past human life of (2) archaeological interest (3) over 100 years old (4) including, but not limited to, pottery, basketry, bottles, weapons, projectiles, tools, structures, pit houses, rock paintings, graves, and human skeletal materials.”
Other legislation protecting Native American cultural sites include the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 and the Antiquities Act of 1906.
Reuters reports evidence teams are expected to finish processing the crime scenes in about three weeks, according to the document submitted in Oregon federal court.
The armed takeover of the refuge started on January 2 and lasted for another six weeks. The occupiers stormed the federal government-owned property after two Oregon ranchers convicted of setting fires that spread to the refuge were returned to prison.
The group was led by brother Ammon and Ryan Bundy, the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy who was at the center of a standoff with BLM over grazing fees in 2014. Ammon and Ryan Bundy were arrested last month with other occupiers at a traffic stop in between the refuge and John Day, Oregon. During the stop a vocal spokesman for the occupiers, Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, was shot and killed. Cliven Bundy was later arrested on his way to Burns on charges stemming from the 2014 incident.
Following the arrests and shooting, the four remaining occupiers entrenched at the refuge refused to surrender unless those imprisoned were released, despite urging from Ammon Bundy, delivered through his attorney, to go home. The final occupiers surrendered on February 11 and have been charged. The very last of whom was 27-year-old David Fry of Ohio whose final negotiations with the FBI were broadcasted live on youtube. Fry, finally agreed to surrender after his demand that the FBI negotiators yell “hallelujah” was met.
The final cost of the standoff is likely months away from being determined but is expected to total in the millions of dollars. Oregon Governor Kate Brown who was a vocal critic of the federal government's slow response to resolve situation has called on those arrested to foot the bulk of the bills.