SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A southern Utah county commissioner convicted of federal misdemeanors for organizing an ATV protest ride through a closed canyon made a mistake and wouldn’t do it again, his lawyers said in new court documents.
Attorneys for San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman are asking a judge to sentence him to probation and community service rather than prison time at a sentencing hearing set for Dec. 18.
“Mr. Lyman recognizes that he should have exercised greater restraint and patience with the BLM, rather than engaging in a protest. He has already been severely penalized for his actions – far beyond what he ever imagined,” lawyer Jeffrey Man wrote in court documents filed Monday.
Prosecutors, though, want Lyman to serve up to a year behind bars. They argue he used his office to encourage people to break the law in the ride designed to protest what organizers called federal overreach in the closure of the canyon.
“Instead of choosing any one or more of these numerous legally-permissible mechanisms to express their disagreement with federal decisions, Defendants chose crime,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Bennett said in court documents.
Prosecutors also say he should be fined along with the $96,000 in restitution he’s already been ordered to pay along with blogger Monte Wells for damage to the canyon, which contains archaeological sites up to 2,000 years old.
Defense attorneys counter that Lyman’s political office had nothing to do with the ride, and they said he kept his ATV on a portion of the canyon where it wouldn’t do any damage.
A jury found Lyman and Wells guilty of misdemeanor illegal use of ATVs and conspiracy in May. The panel acquitted two other men charged with participating in the ride that brought about 50 ATV riders to protest the closure of Recapture Canyon in southeastern Utah to motorized vehicles in what was a largely peaceful event.
Federal officials closed the canyon to motorized vehicles in 2007 to protect the ancient dwellings, artifacts and burials, but it has long been a source of tension in the area among people who say that it was improper and unnecessary.
The ride came shortly after Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy had a standoff with the Bureau of Land Management over similar issues and illustrated the simmering tension between the federal government and some residents in the West over land use.
Several Utah officials have supported Lyman’s stance. State lawmakers publicly threw down wads of cash to help pay for his legal defense. The Utah Association of Counties named him county commissioner of the year, saying Lyman is committed to standing for something his colleagues believe in. Lyman returned the honor.
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