Nevada NewsMakers

News - August 13, 2018 - by Ray Hagar

By Ray Hagar

Nevada Newsmakers

Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore praised President Donald Trump's pardon of Dwight and Steven Hammond last month, after the two Eastern Oregon ranchers were convicted of arson -- using a federal terrorism law --  for starting grass fires near their home.

Fiore, a former state assemblywoman, acted as a negotiator during the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge takeover in 2016. That takeover was led by Nevada rancher Ammond Bundy, son of well-known rancher Cliven Bundy.

Fiore's comments came on a recent interview on Nevada Newsmakers.

"I'm not surprised," Fiore said of the Trump pardon. "There were a lot of folks, especially elected officials, that worked diligently on the Hammonds' behalf, Congress members, legislators from his state and other states. Our coalition of western states is still very active. We have been to Washington a few times. It helped give our President a true synopsis.

"What I learned about our President is he likes the bottom line and facts from people that he trusts," Fiore said. "So the message came across from his folks who he trusts and he pardoned the Hammonds, which I am very grateful for."

The Hammonds, while serving their five-year sentences for arson, became an inspiration for the ranchers who took over the Malheur Refuge. The Hammonds, however, wanted nothing to do with the takeover.

"The Hammonds want to be quiet and peaceful and when I look at ranchers like that, I'm just grateful that our President pardoned them because never once did they protest and they took full responsibility for what they did," Fiore said.

Federal prosecutors originally charged the Hammonds in 2010 with the burning of more than 45,000 acres of federal land near their ranch in Diamond, Ore., according to the East Oregonian news outlet.

The Hammonds were eventually convicted of setting a fire in 2001 that consumed 139 acres of federal land. Steven Hammond was also found guilty of lighting a "backburn," that spread onto an acre of federal land in 2006, according to the East Oregonian.

Dwight Hammond was sentenced to a three-month term by a federal judge. Steven Hammond was sentenced to a year.

After the Hammonds served their time, the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals overturned that decision. The two ranchers were then required to serve minimum-mandatory sentences of five years. The Hammonds received stiff sentences because they were prosecuted under a 1996 terrorism statute, passed after the Oklahoma City bombing.

"They (federal prosecutors) were charging them with arson, a terrorist act," Fiore said. "That is such an insult to the victims of true terrorism and it is such an insult to Americans where you have the federal government prosecuting ranchers as terrorists."

"Their crime did not fit the punishment the federal judge handed down to them," Fiore said.

"The prosecutors came after them with a vengeance," Fiore said.

The Hammonds' stiff sentence was a rallying point for the ranchers involved in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation, Fiore said.

"That was appalling to say the least," Fiore said of the five-year sentences. "And when it hit the media, it really riled up the ranchers and other folks across America. And then the whole Malheur thing happened."

The Hammonds were clearing out brush when their backburn got out of hand in the case that led to their original conviction, Fiore said. It was an accident, she said, adding that the Bureau of Land Management has also let backburns get out of control -- leading to dire consequences.

"No one wants to talk about the BLM's backburns where the BLM historically has made so many improper backburns and have burnt down many private ranches and barns," Fiore said. "They (BLM) have burnt cattle alive because they just could not control it. So there's never a consequence when the federal government does something wrong. But the consequences when innocent ranchers do something wrong is really criminal in itself."

Fiore is also opposed the the law of mandatory-minimum sentences which was used to imprison the Hammonds for the second time.

"Unfortunately, we have some elected officials -- federal and statewide -- that think having mandatory minimums, versus letting judges make the ruling, is a great idea," Fiore said. "I personally don't think it is a great idea. And most of the time of my tenure in the state Legislature, my legislation was about justice reform and reforming prison sentences and really taking a look and making sure the punishment fits the crime."

Fiore was elected to the Las Vegas City Council in 2017. She represented Assembly District 4 in the Legislature from 2012 to 2016. She unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2016.