Sheriff: Two arrests, crash connected to 'criminals' occupying w - KPTV - FOX 12

Sheriff: Two arrests, crash connected to 'criminals' occupying wildlife refuge

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File image of occupation at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge File image of occupation at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
Ammon Bundy, file image Ammon Bundy, file image

The Harney County sheriff said the members of an armed group that have been occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for more than two weeks are considered by law enforcement to be criminals.

Sheriff David Ward said Tuesday additional law enforcement resources have been moved toward locations "to be poised to react to any situation that may occur."

Hospitals have also been notified of more people in town to ensure they have the capability to handle any emergency situation, according to the sheriff.

Two people connected to the refuge occupation have been arrested and a third person was cited in separate cases over the last week.

Oregon State Police stopped a vehicle for a lighting violation Thursday. Dwane Kirkland of Hamilton, Montana was arrested on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Investigators said he was carrying a handgun and a rifle. His vehicle had switched plates and was uninsured, according to police.

The following day, Kenneth Medenbach of LaPine, Oregon was arrested at the Safeway in Burns. Investigators said he was driving a van stolen from the wildlife refuge.

A second refuge van was recovered, but the sheriff's office said the suspects in that vehicle ran away and have not yet been identified. Anyone with information about that case is asked to call deputies at 541-573-1362.

"Every time a trespasser from the refuge operates a vehicle that belongs to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they are committing a crime. We will not tolerate it when they come into our community driving stolen vehicles," according to a sheriff's office release.

On Sunday, troopers discovered a crash on Greenhouse Lane near Highway 20. Investigators said Darrow Burke of Ukiah, California lost control on an icy corner and rolled his vehicle. He was not injured, but he was cited for not having a license.

Burke told troopers he had been at the refuge for the past week.

Deputies said law enforcement has also had multiple contacts with non-Harney County residents who claim they are in the community to act as intermediaries between the FBI and the occupiers. Many of them are armed with handguns and assault rifles, the sheriff's office reports, and they -- as well as the people at the refuge – are wearing police or military-style body armor when contacting law enforcement officers.

The group, led by Ammon Bundy, took over the refuge on Jan. 2 to protest federal land policies.

Ward said the group had pledged to leave the refuge if the community asked them to do so, but "the Bundy group continues to break its repeated promises."

Ward said he personally met with Bundy on Jan. 7 and asked him and his group to leave, but Bundy stated they would not leave.

"From that point forward, the occupiers at the refuge have been considered by law enforcement (local, state and federal) to be criminals -- and they need to vacate the refuge," a sheriff's office statement said.

The group has not offered up a possible timeline for leaving the refuge.

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