SALT LAKE CITY – Five Utah men have been slapped with federal charges for taking part in an all-terrain vehicle protest ride in southeastern Utah earlier this year that the group said was to call attention to the federal government’s overreaching control of public lands.
Federal prosecutors announced they have charged the five southern Utah men with misdemeanor conspiracy and illegal use of ATVs in connection with a ride organized to show displeasure with the federal government.
Prosecutors say the May 10 ride through southeastern Utah’s Recapture Canyon, about a 2¼-hour drive from Durango, was an illegal protest.
“We respect the fact that the citizens of this state have differing and deeply held views ... and recognize that they have the right to express those opinions freely,” said acting U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen in a statement Wednesday. “Nevertheless, those rights must be exercised in a lawful manner.”
The canyon, about three miles east of Blanding’s main drag, has been off-limits to motorized use since a Bureau of Land Management decree in September 2007.
About 50 people participated in the ride, which came shortly after the BLM had a confrontation with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Bundy’s son Ryan Bundy attended the Blanding pre-ride rally and spoke before about 300 people gathered there, including media from around the region. Ryan Bundy also participated in the ride.
The five men charged are: San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, Monte Wells of Monticello, Jay Redd of Santa Clara, Shane Marian of Monticello and Franklin Holliday of Blanding.
The five are each facing two counts, one of conspiracy to ride the ATVs and one of riding the vehicles on closed public land. Each carries a potential penalty of up to a year in jail and a fine of $100,000.
A first hearing in the case is scheduled for Oct. 17 in Salt Lake City before U.S. Magistrate Judge Evelyn Furse.
After a similar ATV protest ride in 2009 on a different off-limits trail, the BLM sent the results of an investigation to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah. But federal prosecutors didn’t file any charges.
Christensen said Wednesday the evidence made the difference in the two cases, but didn’t elaborate.
BLM Director Neil Kornze said Wednesday the charges show the importance of historically important areas. Recapture Canyon is home to dwellings, artifacts and burials left behind by ancestral Puebloans as many as 2,000 years ago before they mysteriously vanished.
“Today’s actions by the U.S. Attorney’s Office underscore the importance of protecting culturally significant areas and holding accountable those who broke the law,” said Kornze in a statement.
Prosecutors say Lyman, 50, proposed the idea of a protest ride through the canyon and promoted it with an article in the Deseret News and on social media. Lyman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment last week.
Lyman did a three-part video interview about the idea with Wells, a 50-year-old blogger who promoted it online, according to charging documents.
Wells said Wednesday he disagreed with the BLM’s decision to close the canyon in 2007.
“That thing was done illegally, they didn’t follow their stuff on it,” said Wells, who denied organizing the protest ride. “The BLM does what the BLM wants to do.”
Prosecutors say Redd, 40, spoke to the crowd in Blanding before the ride, giving them instructions and encouragement. Redd could not immediately be reached last week.
Prosecutors also allege the 33-year-old Marian and 31-year-old Holliday participated in the ride. The charges don’t claim those men had a leadership role in the event.
Holliday said last week, he attended the event but didn’t organize it and was surprised at the charges. Marian couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Christensen said the investigation is ongoing, and charges are possible against other people who participated in the event.
No defense attorneys were immediately listed for any of the men.
Many of the people who rode during the May 10 protest waved American flags and some carried weapons. Lyman said at the time that the ride was a demonstration of federal overreach on public lands.
There were no confrontations or arrests during what was a peaceful protest. The canyon is about 300 miles southeast of Salt Lake City near junction of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.
The Durango Herald staff contributed to this report.