Trial begins for men accused in ATV protest against BLM restrictions at Recapture Canyon

Posted at 6:15 PM, Apr 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-30 00:00:19-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- It was nearly a year ago when at least 50 people defied the federal government and rode all-terrain vehicles through a restricted area in San Juan County, and on Wednesday four men who the government accuses of organizing the protest went on trial.

Prosecutors said these men crossed the line by riding their ATVs through Recapture Canyon, but the defendants said the government overstepped its reach by blocking access to begin with.

Phil Lyman, San Juan County Commissioner, is just one of four men facing two misdemeanor charges for conspiracy and illegal use of off-road vehicles after they led an ATV ride protest through Recapture Canyon on May 10, 2014.

In September of 2007, the BLM made a 7-mile stretch of Recapture Canyon, once opened to ATVs, restricted to motorized vehicles to protect the land and ancient artifacts and sites in the area.

After six years of trying to work something out with the BLM, residents took matters into their own hands and held a protest. Some of those who participated in the ride last year were in the courtroom Wednesday.

“I am here to support the people of the United States, not the government part of it but Phil Lyman and these guys who were erroneously charged,” said Joy Howell of San Juan County.

Prosecutors said Lyman and the others "knowingly and willingly crossed the line in an act of defiance,” and that “there was no way for confusion or error.”

After court Wednesday, when Lyman was asked if he regretted the ride, he said "No."

Wednesday, the jury heard from several witnesses for the prosecution, including the state director of the BLM who said he warned the defendants several times not to ride their ATVs through the blocked off area, or face charges.

The defense will present its case Thursday, and the trial is expected to be over by the end of the week.

While these are just misdemeanor charges, these four men could face up to a year of incarceration and $100,000 in fines. All four have rejected offers of a plea deal.