Peter Santilli (left) and the Pacific Patriot Network from Idaho, Washington and Oregon, arrived at the bird sanctuary today, Jan. 9, 2016, outside of Burns, Oregon. Photo by Mark Graves / Staff Mark Graves | The Oregonian/OregonLive
A federal judge Tuesday affirmed another judge’s earlier decision to release Oregon standoff figure Joseph O’Shaughnessy from custody with home detention and GPS monitoring and set over a release decision on independent broadcaster Peter Santilli until Thursday afternoon.
Federal prosecutors objected to O’Shaughnessy’s release, arguing that he remains a danger to the community. They said he came to Burns in late December and views himself as a captain with the Oath Keepers militia. They showed the judge photos and videos of him outside the refuge that were posted on O’Shaughnessy’s Facebook page.
One video played in court captured O’Shaughnessy, in his own words, talking about being in Burns to set up a “constitutional security protection force” just four days into the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, 30 miles southeast of Burns.
“It’s clear he’s talking about protecting the occupiers from federal law enforcement,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Barrow said.
O’Shaughnessy, 43, and Santilli, 50, are two of 11 defendants facing a federal conspiracy charge stemming from the monthlong occupation of the federal wildlife sanctuary. One of the defendants, Shawna Cox, was released from custody Friday night.
Prosecutors played another video of O’Shaughnessy on Santilli’s show, when O’Shaughnessy urged other patriots to support those occupying the refuge, even if they don’t support their tactics.
And they showed the judge photos of O’Shaughnessy, dressed in tactical gear and armed with a rifle, outside the refuge, and setting up a bunkhouse for emergency operations and ” QRF,” military shorthand for “Quick, Reaction Force,” Barrow said.
O’Shaughnessy’s lawyer, Amy Baggio, continued to argue that her client wasn’t aware of the plan to occupy the refuge when he came to Burns and disagreed with Ammon Bundy and his followers’ tactics to occupy the federal property.
She even submitted letters from co-defendants Ammon Bundy and his older brother, Ryan Bundy, who vouched that O’Shaughnessy disagreed with the refuge takeover.
O’Shaughnessy never spent a night at the refuge, but visited daily to try to convince the Bundys and other followers that what they were doing was “bad for the movement,” his lawyer said. He also went to the refuge to serve as a “buffer” in an attempt to de-escalate the situation and to “bear witness” to any problems that might ensue with law enforcement, his lawyer said.
U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman told Baggio that her argument might be more compelling “if he had passed out flowers and peace symbols.”
Baggio responded that her client’s clothing doesn’t tell the full story. “How someone dresses doesn’t necessarily carry any weight as to how someone behaves,” she argued.
Mosman affirmed U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie F. Beckerman’s decision to release O’Shaughnessy with conditions, noting he has a stable residence with his mother in Cottonwood, Arizona, and a relatively clean record.
The judge said federal prosecutors failed to convince him that O’Shaughnessy was a danger. He said the government hadn’t met its burden in showing that O’Shaughnessy took an aggressive, armed stance between the occupation and law enforcement.
But Mosman wasn’t able to rule yet on whether or not to release co-defendant Santilli.
Mosman said his decision will rest on learning more about the context of what federal prosecutors described as several “incendiary” statements made by Santilli on his online video broadcasts.
Santilli’s court-appointed lawyer, Thomas Coan, described his client as a “shock jock in-your-face” journalist who has been a “thorn” to the federal government, and now is facing retaliation for such work.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight described Santilli as someone who can’t be supervised under any conditions if released, citing examples of his “incendiary language” against the U.S. marshals and federal authorities. He said Santilli did not play a “minimal” or a “collateral” role in the alleged conspiracy, but urged others to come to Burns to support the occupation.
Knight quoted from several statements Santilli had made on his show in late 2015, including remarks about burying guns in his backyard in California while facing a restraining order from a former co-worker. The prosecutor also mentioned a continuing investigation into an alleged threat he said Santilli made against a federal judge in Florida.
On Dec. 16, 2015, Santilli was referencing a case in the Western District of Washington on his broadcast show when he said the U.S. marshals were unconstitutional and that the “feds are a bunch of pussies, and I will take care of your families for you,” Knight said, quoting from Santilli’s broadcast.
According to Santilli’s lawyer, Santilli meant that he was willing to take care of the federal officials’ families, to educate them and set them straight, not bring harm to them.
Mosman called Santilli’s explanation implausible.
Less than a month earlier, on Nov. 25, Santilli talked about the re-sentencing of father-and-son ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and Steven Hammond on his broadcast show and suggested the assistant U.S. attorney in the case should have his “balls” placed “in a vice publicly,” Knight said.
In another episode of his show, Santilli said he had registered guns that he didn’t turn in when he faced a restraining order in California, adding, “I have my stuff buried; I’m not going to be at the mercy of the system,” according to Knight.
Santilli’s lawyer said his client made those comments on air “in jest,” and that he had turned in his guns as required by the restraining order. Santilli wanted his listeners to think that he still had guns because he had received death threats due to his controversial views, Coan argued.
Knight said he also learned about an hour before court that the U.S. Marshals Service was investigating an alleged threat Santilli made against a judge in Florida.
Santilli, his lawyer countered, had called a judge in Florida while on his talk show, and was going to ask her to recuse herself from a case because he believed she had removed some statements from a court transcript, his lawyer said.
Knight further quoted a Santilli statement from his show, in which he said that “if the feds came through my door at 4 a.m., I’d shoot.”
Santilli’s lawyer accused prosecutors of taking his client’s statements out of context.
The judge seemed to struggle with Santilli’s quoted words.
“It’s one thing to say I hate the marshals, or I hate the federal government,” Mosman said. “But if you say things like ‘if the feds come through my door at 4 a.m., I’ll shoot them,’ then that’s different.”
Had any other defendant made similar comments, the person would be detained as a danger to the community, the judge said.
Coan argued that the court needs to consider Santilli’s profession. His vocation is “to shock people,” he argued.
“Other than Mr. Santilli’s own words, this would be a classic case for release,” Mosman said, noting that Santilli has been a law-abiding citizen who served in the military, has a residence in Ohio to return to and largely obeyed law enforcement in Burns.
“How much do I discount what you said that would certainly result in your detention – because you’re provocative?” asked Mosman.
Mosman gave Santilli’s lawyer two more days to help him learn more about the context of his client’s quoted statements before he rules on whether to release Santilli. Pretrial services has recommended Santilli be placed in a halfway house, pending trial.
Santilli will return to court for a continued detention hearing at 4 p.m. Thursday.
Santilli’s business partner and girlfriend, Deborah Rose Jordan Reynolds, testified in court that they’ve been together 4 ½ years, and Santilli moved into her apartment in Cincinnati about a year ago.
She said they came to Burns on Dec. 30 to film the Jan. 2 rally in support of the Hammonds and both were surprised when they learned a group had broken away to take over the refuge . She said Santilli had a “great rapport” with local law enforcement there, particularly the second-in-command under Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward.
She said Santilli isn’t afraid of being arrested. “He wasn’t afraid of it – he certainly wouldn’t run from it,’ she said. She promised to accompany him back to court for his future appearances.
As the hearing came to an end, Santilli turned in his chair beside his lawyer, looked back at the courtroom gallery and winked at Reynolds, before he was led out.
In separate action in federal court in Arizona, federal prosecutors were set to argue Tuesday for the continued detention of defendant Jon Ritzheimer, calling him one of the key players in the refuge takeover since its start. They also cited his website “rogueinfidel,” and statements he’s made saying he was willing to lay his life down to defend the constitution.
Ritzheimer had left Oregon on Jan. 25 to visit his family in Peoria, Arizona. He surrendered to authorities on Jan. 27 in Arizona, a day after federal agents and state police moved in to arrest the Bundy brothers and other leaders of the occupation as they drove along U.S. 395 to a community meeting in John Day.
RECENT COURT DOCUMENTS FILED IN THE CASE:
Read motion from O’Shaughnessy’s lawyer seeking client’s release
Read motion from Santilli’s lawyer seeking client’s release
Read amended motion from Santilli’s lawyer
U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Mosman’s order releasing O’Shaughnessy
Federal government’s motion to keep Jon Ritzheimer in custody
Ammon Bundy’s motion to withdraw challenge of his detention, for now
— Maxine Bernstein