Utahns Charged in Recapture Canyon Ride

September 18, 2014
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recapture(Blanding-Salt Lake City)Federal authorities, Wednesday, accused San Juan County commissioner Phil Lyman and a handful of protesters of conspiracy and illegally riding ATVs into southeast Utah’s Recapture Canyon in May. The charges are misdemeanors in the Federal Court System.  The defendants include Monte Wells, Shane Marian, Franklin Holliday and Jay Redd. The men are ordered to appear Oct. 17 before a U.S. Magistrate. The Bureau of Land Management closed the canyon to motorized use in 2007 to keep wheels off its many archaeological sites. About 50 riders motored into the canyon following a May 10 rally in Blanding denouncing federal “overreach” and mismanagement of public lands. But only those suspected of organizing or promoting the illegal ride were targeted in charges announced Wednesday by acting U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen. The charges allege that Commissioner Phil Lyman, a Blanding accountant and a vocal critic of BLM policies that inhibit access to public lands, “advertised” the ride through a newspaper article and social media.

Christensen, a prepared statement, said: “We respect the fact that the citizens of this State have differing and deeply held views regarding the management and use of Recapture Canyon, and recognize that they have the right to express those opinions freely. Nevertheless, those rights must be exercised in a lawful manner and when individuals choose to violate the law, rather than engage in lawful protest, we will seek to hold those individuals accountable under the law.” The alleged offenses carry up to one year in jail and $100,000 in fines. None was charged with damaging archaeological sites, but prosecutors said the investigation remains open.

Yesterday, Lyman declined to comment. But he has repeatedly argued that the BLM illegally closed a long-standing “highway” through the canyon and that the agency has sat on the county’s right-of-way application for seven years.

A noted Salt Lake area defense attorney and former prosecutor,Greg Skordas, said the conspiracy charges could draw First Amendment challenges. For example, Lyman and Wells’ alleged participation in a conspiracy arises, in part, from communicating criticism of federal influence on public lands. He says, “Publishing plans to commit a crime could be conspiracy,” “But publishing thoughts that may later provoke people to commit a crime would be free speech.” Skordas could not see, from the evidence now publicly known, how writing an opinion submission for a newspaper would be part of a conspiracy. He suspects the charges may not stand a vigorous defense.

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