Ammon Bundy convicted in trespassing trial

Ammon Bundy
Credit: Ada County Sheriff's Office

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Anti-government activist and agitator Ammon Bundy has been found guilty of misdemeanor trespassing and misdemeanor resisting or obstructing officers.

Bundy was found guilty Thursday evening after a four-day jury trial and brief jury deliberations, the Idaho Statesman reported.

Bundy was sentenced to three days in jail. But with credit for time served, he will serve no additional jail time. Magistrate Judge David Manweiler also imposed 48 hours of community service and a $750 fine for Bundy.

A co-defendant, Aaron Von Schmidt, was found guilty of misdemeanor trespassing. He was sentenced to three days in jail as well, but also got credit for time served, and a $500 fine.

Both men were arrested Aug. 25, 2020, and charged with trespassing when they refused to leave a Statehouse auditorium after officials ordered it to be cleared. Bundy was also charged with resisting and obstructing officers after police said he went limp and refused to stand up and put his hands behind his back. Officers ultimately wheeled him out of the Capitol building on a swivel chair.

Bundy, who is best known for leading a group of armed activists in the occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge in 2016 to protest the federal control of public lands, has tried to frame his arrest as oppression from political opponents.

“What it does show is that they are afraid of me. And they should be, because when I’m governor, I will not allow the state to use resources to attack innocent people,” he said in the June 27 video.

Bundy filed documents to run for Idaho governor in May, though he acknowledged during the trial that he isn’t registered to vote in the state. Bundy moved to Idaho several years ago.

Ada County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Whitney Welsh said at the start of the trial that Bundy and Schmidt “decided that the rules just don’t apply to them.”

“There are rules for a democracy and rules are, in fact, what makes our democracy work,” Welsh said.

Bundy’s attorney Sam Bishop, meanwhile, framed the events that led to his arrest as a legal, peaceful protest of legislation that he opposed.

“It was just a really unsexy bill about liability,” Bishop said. “But Ammon didn’t agree with that bill. And he did the one thing you can do when you don’t agree with a bill.”

Prosecutors countered that the appropriate way to protest a bill is to testify during a committee meeting, which they said Bundy had done the day before, rather than to ignore police orders to vacate a room that the Speaker of the House has ordered closed.

Bundy testified on his own behalf, saying he didn’t want to be at the Statehouse that day but showed up because he felt “it was crucial that I make some kind of stand.” Bundy also said he would make the same decision again, even knowing the consequences.

“I was definitely thinking that what was happening here was inappropriate — the show of force was immense,” Bundy said. “… And it was in my opinion designed to chill the people from being at the Capitol building.”

Idaho State Police Sgt. Blake Higley testified that the large police presence was there because the previous day six officers had been outnumbered by a crowd of people, angry over coronavirus-related social distancing rules, forced their way past officers and into a House gallery, breaking a door in the process.

“It was chaos,” Higley said, saying that the six officers were “pushed, shoved and battered” by the crowd. Bundy was part of the crowd, which also included several members of his “People’s Rights” grassroots organization, but jurors weren’t told that information out of concern that it could unfairly prejudice them against Bundy as they decided if his actions the following day were criminal.

Von Schmidt, who represented himself in the case, focused much of his time attempting to show the jurors that he may not have been in the Statehouse auditorium when law enforcement officers gave the order to clear it. But a law enforcement officer testified that he gave the order multiple times, including to Von Schmidt.

Under the Legislature’s rules, the Speaker of the House is in control of many parts of the building and can order rooms to be cleared in cases of disturbances or disorderly conduct.

Bundy maintains that he wasn’t being disorderly and should have been allowed to sit peacefully in the room until the the entire building closed to the public, which is typically at 7 p.m.

But Speaker of the House Scott Bedke testified that committee rooms, including the auditorium, are open to the public when legislative business is being done, but may be closed and locked at other times.

During closing arguments on Thursday, Bishop told the jurors that they might not agree with Bundy’s approach, but he asked the jurors to “stand up for people who have a different opinion.”

Walsh said that not believing in a law or rule doesn’t give someone the right to violate it. She said that during his testimony, Bundy admitted refusing to leave the auditorium and passively resisting his arrest — the very same things that he was charged with misdemeanors for doing.

Bundy garnered international attention when in 2016 he led a group of armed activists in the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to protest the federal control of public lands. He and others were eventually arrested, ending the 41-day occupation. But Bundy was acquitted of all federal charges in that case by an Oregon jury.

In 2014, Bundy, several brothers and his father led an armed standoff in Nevada with Bureau of Land Management agents who attempted to confiscate his father’s cattle for grazing on public land without a permit. He spent almost two years in federal custody before the judge later declared a mistrial.