Lyman, Wells reflect on Recapture Canyon protest, sentencing

SALT LAKE CITY – After two years of having their lives wrapped up in a courtroom drama for their role in an all-terrain vehicle protest ride, Phillip Kay Lyman and Monte Jerome Wells both breathed a sigh of relief Friday when a federal judge handed down a sentence totaling, between them, just over two weeks incarceration.

Sentence recap

U.S. District Judge David Nuffer sentenced Lyman to 10 days and Wells to five days incarceration, to be served in the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility, which contracts to house federal inmates. Additionally, each was placed on three years probation with conditions and ordered to pay fines of $1,000 and $500, respectively. The judge also ordered $95,955.61 restitution to the U.S. government.

Nuffer told Lyman during court he had lost much sleep over this case.

While sentencing guidelines call for terms ranging from no jail to six months, Nuffer said he struggled with what length to impose but agreed with prosecutors that there needed to be some jail time imposed. He chose the stipulations he felt were not only fair to the two men who do a lot for their families and communities, the judge said, but would also anger those from both sides of the public lands issue.

The short jail terms, Nuffer said, “will strike a balance and I believe it’s merited to promote respect of the law and deter similar conduct.”

In a private interview with St. George News, U.S. Attorney John Huber said he was pleased with Friday’s sentence. Huber said he believes it sent a loud message to those who might think about breaking the law as a way to demonstrate their frustration with the federal government and land-use issues.

“It doesn’t matter what political opinions you espouse or where you fall on the political spectrum, whether its far right or far left,” he said. “The message sent in this case is that when a person breaks the law there are consequences and the U.S. Attorney’s office will prosecute. And, I would hope that that message is one that will make people pause and think twice before walking down the slippery slope toward disorder and chaos.”

A jury deliberated for 7 hours before finding Lyman and Wells guilty last May. The jury convicted them on misdemeanor conspiracy and aiding and abetting charges related to the operation of off-road vehicles on public lands closed by federal land managers in 2007  – a closure the government made with a stated purpose of protecting ancient American Indian sites and to prevent trespassing. Lyman’s charges were enhanced because of his role as a San Juan County Commissioner.

Read more: Blanding: OHV riders, militia protest BLM, ride through Recapture Canyon; Photos 

2014 conflicts between county and federal governments

The 2014 Recapture Canyon protest came on the heels of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s standoff with the BLM when tensions were already high in Southern Utah and many lawmakers were demanding the federal government relinquish control of public lands.

For many, the events south of the state line seemed to spawn a call to action, even inspiring outrage in the public and motivating many county commissioners in Utah to take on the federal government with their own county issues. Among those were the following:

  • In Iron County, the commissioners led an initiative in April challenging the BLM on what they argued was a mismanagement of wild horses on public lands. The action became a collective effort of several counties, including Washington and Beaver counties. The commissioners threatened to take matters into their own hands if the BLM started to round up Bundy’s cattle.
  • Washington County followed suit, with its commissioners passing a resolution in May prohibiting the transport and sale of Bundy’s cattle across state lines.
  • Garfield County Commissioners approved a resolution at the end of May aimed at the U.S. Forestry Service. The resolution declared a state of emergency “as a result of drought conditions and excessive fuel loading,” and placed a moratorium on prescribed burns within the county and encouraged mechanical treatment instead.

While some compromises were reached in time and the dialogue between local and federal government continues over the various issues, the public debate remains.

San Juan County conflicts

Calling the San Juan incident a “tragedy,” Nuffer used his platform to speak to the co-defendants in the Salt Lake City courtroom filled with supporters and political sympathizers about the polarization of the political environment in Southern Utah.

The judge condemned what he said he saw as a “mythology” emerging from this case that was reflected in the letters of support filed on behalf of Lyman and Wells. He said:

On both sides in the letters I’ve received, I see distrust, hostility, anger, fear, suspicions, arrogance, attribution of evil motives, means of dishonesty, hyperbole, refusal to acknowledge any validity in another point of view, refusal to listen, entrenchment and self-attribution of the highest values, motives and correctness. We have some shared values: our country, our freedom, our land; but the way we go about this is destructive. What good comes out of conflict with the huge losses that we are seeing today?

Nuffer, who practiced law in Southern Utah for 25 years, called for the political rhetoric to be scaled back.

“I’d like to speak a word on those things you’re not seeing – family, peace, happiness, liberty. More important than roads are the places they take us. More important than hospitals is the healing that takes place there. More important than politics are people. We are all people,” he said. “Can we reduce the bitterness of the battle and the conflict? Can the values and behaviors our mothers and kindergarten teachers tried to teach come back to us now? Can we stop emulating the people we see on television and the national politicians? Can we be better here?

“. . . If we don’t ratchet down the emotion and all those negative, negative qualities, we will do serious damage,” Nuffer said. “… This is a great time of year to examine ourselves and make changes in our approaches for the betterment of our community which includes our neighbors, our families, our cities, counties, our state and our nation.”

The judge also reminded Lyman about his role as a county commissioner and the need to use caution in delivering his messages.

“You took an oath to uphold the constitutions of the United States and Utah. We both have taken that same oath … ,” Nuffer said. “We have to be extremely careful about things we say, things we do and the messages we put out.”

Outside court, Lyman refused to provide comment to the press but spoke with St. George News later that day in an exclusive interview. Of the judge’s comments, Lyman said he took his words as “genuine” and at “face value.”

“I took his counsel at face value and I thought ‘this is to me. He’s talking to Phil Lyman. He does not want to see animosity whipped up into some kind of irrational action,’ and I appreciated his advice. I thought it was good counsel, really good advice …,” Lyman said.

Still, Lyman felt the judge did not completely understand the commissioners’ role in the issues facing San Juan County.

“While he was talking there was a part of me that thought, ‘judge you think I was stirring up animosity to BLM employees’ and I was not. . . But I think the judge was still probably saying, ‘Phil you lit a match or you started something.’ And I didn’t light a match. This fire has been burning for a long time.”

Wells, who also granted St. George News an interview, said of Nuffer’s homily that he felt the judge touched on some points that showed he understood some of the deeper underlying issues with the public lands. He said:

The judge gave a nice comment there at the end – what I got from it is that he can see the route that we are on is leading to a disaster. We’re headed down the wrong path. We’re headed down to a collision none of us want and it hasn’t always been that way. Up until 2005 I use to do all the permitting with my father’s company with the BLM, the forestry and everybody; and you can go in and work with them on anything. We got along. There wasn’t this us and them attitude, but that’s changed since then and that’s what we have now. The people have felt that. There’s just been a huge change since that period, since the raids in 2009 and there’s a blatant disregard the agencies have for the people of San Juan County. It’s very obvious and the people pick up on that.

In an emotional wrenching plea to the court, Lyman described the suffering many of his constituents in Blanding experienced in 2009 from BLM raids on homes of suspected artifact traffickers, an event he says devastated the community and laid the groundwork for the Recapture Canyon protest.

“Old men we love and respected, relatives of mine harshly treated, it was a hard thing. Three young men who suffered,” Lyman said, trying to hold back the rush of emotion coming through during his testimony. “Lives were truly devastated as a result of that time …. The devastation is still very apparent …. My friend’s daughter was strip-searched.”

Lyman’s and Wells’ allusion to 2009 is in reference to an American Indian artifacts trafficking sting in the Four Corners of Southern Utah. At that time federal agents, armed with semi-automatic weapons, arrested James and Jeanne Redd among 22 others on June 10, 2009. Federal prosecutors charged James Redd, 60, with one felony county of theft of tribal property, specifically an effigy bird pendant the size of a small fingernail.

The next day after his arrest James Redd, a prominent physician in Blanding, took his own life after leaving behind a recording that reflected on what the parties say was “excessive, overreaching and abusive treatment” by the agents. Two others also associated with the case committed suicide as well.

The family of James Redd filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2011 contending the federal agencies that included the BLM and the FBI caused his death. That case is ongoing.

Lyman went on to explain that he believes he is a reasonable individual but as an elected official he felt an obligation to not only make himself accessible but vulnerable.

During the interview with St. George News, Lyman discussed his feelings about the 2009 events and the part it played in his decision to lead the protest down Recapture Canyon.

“After seeing what had happened to some of the families in Blanding, namely Dr. Redd and his family, and kind of going through that with them and people I knew – there was a feeling that I can’t be in public office and not do something that demonstrates my displeasure with that,” Lyman said. “And even more so than that, it’s the false narrative that these people, that they were grave diggers, that they were artifact thieves, that they were in the black market – all of it completely false. It’s completely false.”

Lyman described the experience as surreal.

“There’s a difference between hearing a story and not believing it versus living in a town and being part of the story and hearing what’s being written and saying, ‘surely no one is buying this stuff.’ Then you find out that not only are they buying it but pushing on to the Department of Justice and the Department of Justice is taking action, and charging people, and forcing them to take a plea or they’re going to lose everything.”

At that point, he said, he could not sit back and watch it all happen and do nothing.

“And then I found myself in the position saying, ‘I don’t want to step into the ring. I’m really not a tough guy but here I am. I’m elected and I’m not going to spend my tenure as an elected official with my hands in my pockets pretending like I have no ability to effect change,’” he said.

Lyman said his biggest regret in taking on the federal government is the time he lost with his son who then was a senior in high school and is now on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“You know lessons learned sometimes come with a price. Sometimes you pay a price,” he said. “My son is on a mission now and most of his senior year I was absorbed in those things and I shortchanged him and I don’t know – I don’t know how I’ll be evaluated in the final assessment. I think I, I don’t know, probably shortchanged him and that’s a regret. That’s a regret. I look at it like it wasn’t fair to do to him and probably wasn’t fair to my wife but. I put them through a lot of stress. I’m kinda selfish I guess on that front.”

The biggest regret for Wells was outlined in his plea to the court. He told the judge he had failed to appreciate the devastating consequences of the protest.

“I have put my family through a continuing nightmare, placing my liberty and their security at risk. I have come to learn through a very painful experience the right to protest, as will all rights, exists largely because it’s not absolute,” he said. “Rights come with responsibilities. I don’t have the right to take away the rights of others.”

Lyman said going forward he hopes he can work with the federal agencies in the future to get them back on track with their original goals of impartially working with the communities and coordinating with local government and “not just talk about it but actually do it.”

Particulars of judge’s orders against Lyman, Wells

The judge ordered total restitution of $95,955.61, with Wells and Lyman jointly and severally liable for the first $48,000 of that amount. Lyman is solely responsible for the balance of the restitution. Simply put, the first $48,000 may be enforced against either or both Wells and Lyman, while the remaining $47,955.61 may only be enforced against Lyman.

The restitution ordered addresses the federal government’s claim for for damages sustained as a result of the 2014 ATV protest ride against the BLM.

After the hearing, Lyman told St. George News the men have so far received around $30,000 in donations from supporters.

Wells said those donations may go toward covering the bill now owed to the federal government.

As part of the typical probation terms, Nuffer initially barred the men from possessing firearms but later changed the order to require only that the men remove the guns and ammunition from their homes when probation officers visit. The reason for the change is that Wells is a federally licensed gun dealer whose livelihood would be greatly impacted if faced with a full ban on gun ownership.

Lyman’s probation also prohibits him from advocating for the violation of federal land-use laws.

Both Lyman and Wells are allowed to surrender to jail at their convenience but Lyman, an accountant in Blanding, may wait until after April’s tax season, Nuffer said.

The co-defendants have 14 days to appeal. Both Lyman and Wells told St. George News after the hearing they are in the process of weighing all of their options with their attorneys.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews | @tracie_sullivan

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.


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  • 42214 December 20, 2015 at 11:59 pm

    The silver lining in this sad story is Phil and Native Born Idiot get to enjoy a … visit in Purgatory.
    Ed. ellipsis.

    • Rainbow Dash December 21, 2015 at 10:54 am

      If Mesaman, mrssmith and Brian came it would be a true Mormon “family reunion”.

  • native born new mexican December 21, 2015 at 8:18 am

    I appreciate this article by St George news, You have been very fair and done a good job. My family and I in New Mexico have had very bad experiences with the BLM and the forest service as have all the people in my small Community. Rural people live off the land and in the case of my community in New Mexico we have done so for many centuries prior to the very controversial arrival of the US government in the 1840’s. What happened then and since then is not forgotten. These agencies are just big, all powerful bullies. This situation is not going to get better until the federal government starts backing off and starts respecting the rights of people. When you push people to a place where they have no choice but to react the result is not a good one. i don’t care who disagrees with me or how many disagree with me I and lots of people besides me have the experiences we do and the views and reactions we do and they are not going away. I hope a hundred people disagree with me in this forum. Your opinions won’t change the truth that I, the people in my New Mexico community, the people of San Juan county and people all over the west are voicing about the international, elite, dictators who run the US federal government.

    • 42214 December 21, 2015 at 2:50 pm

      I bet the feds gave you small pox infested blankets and fire water too.

      • .... December 21, 2015 at 10:58 pm

        Yo Rainbow…that idiot is posting here because nobody in New Mexico wants to listen to his stupid useless rantings. oh btw him calling us perverts ? Takes one to know one !

      • .... December 22, 2015 at 8:39 am

        Mesaman make’em plenty big heap wampums now. White eyes speak with forked tongue. they make’em war party.many moons now not see coat eat’em cow we just eat’em injun corn dog.

    • Rainbow Dash December 21, 2015 at 4:37 pm

      Hey Native if you live in New Mexico why are you posting your loony ramblings here? I mean don’t you think that they might be better served by posting on a website that covers what goes on in, oh I don’t know, NEW MEXICO? You do know that St George is not a city in New Mexico, right?

      • native born new mexican December 22, 2015 at 11:06 am

        Where do I live Rainbow? Do you know? No matter where I live; do I not have the same opportunity as you do from ST George news to post comments here?? So if a person does not agree with you their comments are loony ramblings?? Did you forget what I said about being sick in the heart? Are you trying to prove that true about yourself??

  • Chris December 21, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    ” These agencies are just big, all powerful bullies.” Your ignorance of the workings of the federal government is wrapped up there in that sentence. These agencies are controlled by elected officials who ultimately answer to the will of the electorate. There is nothing “all powerful” about them. They are restrained by the courts as well. The fact that you represent the losing side of this controversy should give you the hint that you are in the minority of public opinion as well as the minority of legal opinion. Your ” international, elite, dictators ” exist only in your demented imagination. Conspiracy theory is simply an excuse for the pathetic loser existence you must lead.

    • native born new mexican December 21, 2015 at 3:57 pm

      Prove to me Chris that I am in the minority. Let me see the numbers from the poll you took showing that I am in the minority. You CAN’T do it so don’t pretend it is so. You are telling out right lies when you try to dismiss the bully power of the BLM. Maybe it needs to be you who gets run out out of your house with automatic rifles pointed at you and who has your daughter STRIP searched. That all happened. The agencies are run by appointed bureaucrats who are well entrenched in their positions and well paid. They have been caught stealing more than once. Go look that up also. Don’t get me started talking about whether elections are fair and clean in this country. You Chris know they are not so don’t try to hide behind that. You only make your self look very foolish. You also know that the courts of injustice in this country are a joke. No American who even sometimes reads the news is unaware of that. I know who all of you are because of the comments of that PERVERT 42214 and shame on her Rainbow dash who tried to agree with him. Is that ALL you can offer demeaning, filthy comments about people who disagree with your views??? What a sick in the head and heart bunch you are. If you want to disagree than do it clean and above board. Who sees any value in the comments of liars and perverts who will say any ugly thing they think they can get away with instead of presenting facts. Disagree with me but tell the truth, present facts and leave filthy, nasty, PERVERTED remarks out of it unless that is who you really are a bunch of PERVERTS and bullies. It is quite interesting getting you all to show in public how mean spirited and lacking in intelligence you all are. Keep letting 42214 do your talking for you he makes you all look SO GOOD!!! Is that who you are too Chris???

      • Rainbow Dash December 21, 2015 at 8:27 pm

        Native,, Thank you for your comment. I will be the first to admit that I have not always been kind to others on this site but I have always done my best to back up every statement I make with *something*. I appreciate the blunt tone of your reply and I will take your comment under consideration for future posts. In the mean time, please allow me to retort. I cannot recall a single time when you have EVER backed up any of your statements with anything other then your own keyboard. You’re constantly on this site making claims like “Maybe it needs to be you who gets run out out of your house with automatic rifles pointed at you and who has your daughter STRIP searched. That all happened.” but never back them up. I went back a few weeks on this site and couldn’t find any and I don’t recall you backing anything up so If you think I’m wrong, prove it. If what you say happened, happened it sucks and I think it’s atrocious but Where’s the video? Where’s the press statement? Where are the police reports? Where’s the proof? I agree that what you say happened is wrong and if it happened to me then I would be in the same position as you but let me tell you this; I know that if something like that actually happened to me and my family the first thing I would do is pull out a video camera and get whatever I could on film and the first call I would make would be to the press and I would keep calling every newspaper, television station, radio station, etcetera until someone looked into it. Why? I would want as many people as possible to know about it and I would want as much proof as I could muster showing that it actually happened so that when I told people what happened, I could provide some kind of tangible proof.
        Furthermore, I love that, in the course of one paragraph you call people who you think disagree with you names like pervert, bully, sick, liars, nasty, etc then tell everyone that you want people who you think disagree with you to “….tell the truth, present facts and leave filthy, nasty, PERVERTED remarks out of it…” when you yourself have done none of that. Are you somehow exempt from following your own rules? Is this a “Do as I say, not as I do” scenario?

        • native born new mexican December 22, 2015 at 9:16 am

          Rainbow It happened in 2009 in the BLM raid in San Juan county. Read Phil Lyman’s account in his comments. It is well documented what the BLM did. He is not just making that all up. The story ran for weeks in the papers- KSL and others. there are law suits going on because of it. My own family have had this type of treatment from the BLM in New Mexico. I know, I was trying to protect my then 82 year old dad from them. I am not making that up either. Just ONE of the things that happened to us is that the BLM cut the fence lock on my dad’s property and stole truck loads of things that that did not belong to them. My poor old dad watched them do it and I went and took pictures of all the things they stole because they left it all out in the open to rot. When you are dealing with the feds it does not matter who is right or wrong. The Feds are always right! They have endlessly deep pockets- all tax payers and a corrupt legal system on their side. By the way I have said before that I do not think Mr. DeChristopher should have done prison or jail time. Those places should be for violent people only. I also don’t think he was treated fairly even though I don’t agree with his view of things. The forest service is doing the same thing to my whole community. The forest service wanted (wants) a piece of property my dad owns so they researched all the way back to the 1930’s to try to prove that there was a year when my GREAT grand father did not pay taxes on it so the government could take the land. We won that one but my crud what a nasty thing to do and yes I can prove it happened. Rainbow did you not read the vulgar remark that was made? I know you did. If anyone thinks that is something to say on a comment board than what I said in my comment is true of them.

          • Rainbow Dash December 22, 2015 at 12:46 pm

            Yea I’m not going to waste a single nanosecond of my precious life researching your statements for you. You made them, you back them up. You say what happened to Mr. Lyman was covered for weeks in KSL and others? Great! Im sure you can find a link to back it up so go find that link and post it here. You can prove what happened to you? Great! Post it here. As for my comment above, I think what I said to 42214 was funny (and true). If you don’t like what I said, life is tough. I could not care less where you live, you can post whatever you want wherever and whenever you want to I was just pointing out the fact that St George is not a city in New Mexico, no one who lives and works here has any say in what happens in New Mexico and the st George News has very rarely, if ever, covered something that happened in New Mexico. So what good do your ramblings do? Do you really believe that any sane person here in St George is going to come rushing to New Mexico to stop the BLM because some key board warrior using a pseudonym told some woe is me stories they said they could prove but never do in the comment section of an Internet newspaper?

          • Rainbow Dash December 22, 2015 at 12:51 pm

            **..,.New Mexico or anywhere else to stop the BLM…**

          • Rainbow Dash December 22, 2015 at 1:19 pm

            And just so you know, I read Lyman’s comments about what happened in 2009 but I’m going to need more then the words of a politician who broke the law he swore to uphold to accomplish a goal that could have been accomplished legally then used some woe is me story of something that allegedly happened to someone else 7 years ago to justify it.

          • 42214 December 22, 2015 at 3:21 pm

            Is this the same great grandfather you claimed was a Confederate officer during the civil war?

      • 42214 December 21, 2015 at 8:54 pm

        I am deeply offended Native Born called me a pervert. It should apologize.

        • .... December 21, 2015 at 11:00 pm

          Well at least he called us perverts instead of perves..

  • DRT December 21, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    It would be interesting to see just how the $95,955.61 restitution figure was reached.

  • 42214 December 21, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    Native Born is a professional whiner that expects reparations for past “injustices”. How about 2 Big Macs and a super size fry? Will that shut you up? Crawl back under you rock and live off the land eating insects and worshiping solar eclipses.

    • .... December 22, 2015 at 8:41 am

      Not just a whiner. but also a total babbling know nothing.

  • 42214 December 21, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    Lyman and Wells both said, “It was all worth it cause Native Born loves us. We did it for him/her and all the poor oppressed victims in this world.”

    • .... December 21, 2015 at 10:55 pm

      Awww wow you’re such a sentimental kinda a guy .! LOL !

  • ladybugavenger December 21, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    Trump for President!

    • .... December 22, 2015 at 8:43 am

      TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT ! rich people’s lives matter

  • .... December 21, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    Hey should the word ‘ perverts ‘ be allowed ? I find that to be extremely offensive. after all there are certain words that cannot be used in reference to somebody’s sexual preferences or race or religion. and the term ‘ pervert ‘ is offensive to people with unusual sexual activities..I feel that word should be edited. with all due respect in the name of political correctness…

    • 42214 December 22, 2015 at 8:30 am

      ….your comments are so cogent and thought provoking.

      • .... December 22, 2015 at 11:24 am

        Well it ain’t like I said sumptin like uh let’s see uh ..The FakeMcDork

  • .... December 22, 2015 at 8:51 am

    Oh wow I seen in a comment that someone called NewBornNewNexican ‘ New Born Idiot. and didn’t get edited. so that means I can print ‘TheRealMcidiot and not edited right ?

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