Sentencing complete for Recapture Canyon protest
Dec 23, 2015 | 6452 views | 0 0 comments | 184 184 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Two San Juan County men stood before a federal judge on December 18 to be sentenced for their role in the May, 2014 protest in Recapture Canyon.

Federal Judge David Nuffer sentenced San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman to ten days in jail, a $1,000 fine and 36 months probation.

Monte Wells was sentenced to five days in jail, a $500 fine, and 36 months probation.

The men also will be required to pay $96,000 in restitution.

They have two weeks to file an appeal.

The men were convicted in May, 2015 and faced sentencing for two federal misdemeanor counts each, one for organizing the protest and the other for participating in the protest.

At the 2014 event, several hundred protesters participated in a rally in Blanding. Afterwards, a large group headed to the canyon to protest the seven-year closure of portions of Recapture Canyon to motorized vehicles by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The majority of the group, including Lyman, stayed on an established pipeline maintenance road. A smaller group traveled through the canyon on a more primitive road.

The BLM stated that they spent $96,000 to investigate the damage and complete repairs on archaeological sites that were damaged by the protesters.

In a previous hearing in November, Judge Nuffer said that Lyman and Wells were to pay the $96,000 as restitution.

The sentencing was delayed for seven months after trial judge Robert Shelby recused himself from the case after the trial.

The sentencing phase on December 18 took nearly two hours to complete in the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City. The process included statements by the prosecution, the defense, and the two men.

Prosecutors initially asked for up to six months in jail and a $30,000 fine for Lyman and six months in jail and a $20,000 fine for Wells.

U.S. Attorney Jared Bennett said Lyman and Wells intentionally violated the law and added, “Incarceration for a period of time is appropriate.”

Defense attorneys asked for community service and probation.

Defense attorney Peter Stirba said Lyman didn’t damage anything because he did not go off the pipeline maintenance road during the protest.

He added, “This is a misdemeanor case. For heaven’s sake, this is a misdemeanor.”

Lyman addressed the court and asked for a merciful sentence, adding, “This is a mistake that is never going to happen again.”

Judge Nuffer pronounced the sentence, stating that he was going to make statements that were likely to touch a few nerves on both sides.

Nuffer explained that he lived in southern Utah and understood the tensions between local residents and the federal land agencies.

The judge, who practiced law in Kane County and served as a federal magistrate in St. George, said the protest had caused real damage and needed to be addressed.

The sentence was then given: ten days in jail, a $1,000 fine and 36 months probation.

In addition, Judge Nuffer added that Lyman was restricted from advocating for land-use violations. Lyman, a CPA in Blanding, can serve the ten day sentence after the tax season.

Wells was sentenced after Lyman. Well’s attorney, Nathan Crane, said the Monticello man already faces a “huge and staggering amount” with the $96,000 restitution. He also requested that any probation would not restrict Wells, who has a federal firearms license, from possessing firearms.

Wells said the practical consequences of the experience have been devastating.

Nuffer’s sentence for Wells is five days in jail, a $500 fine and 36 months probation. There are no firearms restrictions on the probation but Judge Nuffer said there were to be no firearms in the Wells home when probation officers visit.
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