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Judge: Bundy Ranch Protesters From Idaho To Stay Behind Bars

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network
The James A. McClure Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Boise

Three anti-government protesters from Idaho will stay behind bars for the time being. A fourth will have his status reviewed Thursday in Coeur d’Alene. This all stems from the armed confrontation near the Bundy Ranch in Nevada in 2014.

After this winter’s arrests of the occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the federal government swept up participants in the earlier armed confrontation in Nevada. That includes four Idaho men who answered the “call-to-arms” from militant rancher Cliven Bundy. They’re now seeking release on bail.

On Wednesday, federal Judge Candy Dale agreed with prosecutors that Erik Parker and Scott Drexler pose a risk of danger to the community or a risk to flee if she were to release them pending trial.

Parker, 32, is the vice president of a self-described “patriots” group, the III Percent of Idaho. About two dozen of the group’s members attended the back-to-back detention hearings in federal court to show support for their jailed brethren. Afterwards, several grumbled loudly that it made them sick to their stomachs and was a “sad day in America.”

The third defendant whose request for pretrial release was heard Wednesday was Steven Stewart, 32, of Hailey, Idaho. Dale agreed that Stewart could be released under strict conditions, including that he not possess any firearms. But Stewart’s release was put on hold so that the U.S. District Court in Nevada where his case will be tried can review the order.

Todd Engel, 49, of Boundary County in north Idaho will have his detention reviewed on Thursday in Coeur d’Alene.

Defense lawyers for Drexler, Parker and Stewart each argued for pretrial release with strict monitoring. They disputed the government’s contention that the accused pose a threat to reoffend or flee.

Parker sat expressionless as his attorney explained his roots in the Hailey area including the fact that he is married with two children, owns his house, has a steady job and pays his taxes. Drexler’s attorney noted that his client’s father served for many years as the Blaine County Sheriff. Drexler, 44, now lives in Challis.

“There are conditions of release that would be appropriate,” attorney Joe Borton said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Whatcott countered that the defendants’ past defiance of federal authority presented a risk of future standoffs. Whatcott mentioned that III Percent of Idaho members journeyed to Burns, Oregon, to protest around the refuge occupation there and also participated in a 2015 armed protest against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in a southern Oregon in support of man accused of illegal mining.

“That causes me the most concern in this case because federal law enforcement officers are the very persons who will supervise you on release,” Judge Dale said when she explained to Parker why she was sending him back to jail pending transfer to federal court in Nevada.

The government motions filed with the Idaho court include numerous news media photos and subsequent social media posts from the April 12, 2014 confrontation at the Bundy Ranch near Bunkerville, Nevada. That month, the Bundy clan issued a call-to-arms to anti-government activists to join them to prevent the seizure of their cattle due to unpaid grazing fees.

Parker in particular earned some notoriety as “the sniper on the bridge,” as Whatcott described him Wednesday. No shots were fired during the incident.

Nineteen people were named in a superseding indictment early this month for their alleged involvement in the Bundy Ranch confrontation. Nearly half of them were already in jail because of they were arrested in connection with this winter’s Malheur refuge occupation.

Four of the accused Malheur occupiers -- not including any of the Bundys -- have been released under condition of not possessing guns and not communicating with other defendants, among other restrictions.

More detention hearings follow on Friday in Portland for accused Malheur occupiers Pete Santilli and Kenneth Medenbach. Santilli is an online radio show host from Ohio. Medenbach, of Crescent, Oregon, was the first person arrested in Burns when he drove a stolen government truck to the Safeway store to shop for supplies.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.