Harney County Sheriff takes the stand in wildlife refuge standof - KPTV - FOX 12

Harney County Sheriff takes the stand in wildlife refuge standoff case

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Harney Co. Sheriff Dave Ward, file (KPTV) Harney Co. Sheriff Dave Ward, file (KPTV)

Wednesday the sheriff of Harney County took the stand on day two of the trial of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupiers.

A key witness in this case, prosecutors are using Sheriff Dave Ward’s testimony to try to prove that the defendants organized a threatening and dangerous occupation of the refuge.

In January, the sheriff told the armed occupiers to leave, a moment more than two months in the making.

In court, ward said he first met with Ammon Bundy on November 5, 2015, when Bundy told him to investigate an unjust conviction of ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond for arson on federal land.

Ward said his early meetings with Bundy and his supporters were polite and peaceful, and in good faith, the sheriff allowed them into his office with holstered guns, which is against policy.

“I told them we can’t tolerate violence and bloodshed” he testified. “I wanted to diffuse the situation before it began.”

After that meeting, though, Ward said his office was flooded with calls, emails and ultimatums including this one from defendant Neil Wampler.

Ward testified that Wampler emailed the sheriff saying he had to do something about the Hammonds or “see your county invaded by some of the most determined, organized and armed citizens alive in this country today.”

When dozens of people arrived for a protest on January 2, 2016, Ward feared they would take over the sheriff’s office.

“I instructed staff that if the building was breached to evacuate and lock themselves in the jail and wait for me,” he said Wednesday.

Later that day, the protesters instead took over the Malheur refuge.

One of the occupiers feels that Sheriff Ward has changed his story, though.

Jason Patrick was at the refuge and will go on trial for conspiracy in February. He thinks Ward started with good intentions but then caved to federal pressure.

“Dave Ward was an appointed sheriff who was at the deep end of the pool and didn’t quite know how to swim,” Patrick said outside of court Monday. “He had ideas initially that we were peaceful, reasonable men that were trying to get to the bottom of some real issues.  And then as soon as he began talking to the FBI, he switched his narrative to violent occupiers.”

Ward also testified Wednesday that his family felt intimidated by the protesters and his wife’s tires were slashed as well.

The next witness being called in the case is one of Ward’s deputies.

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