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Judge orders restitution for Recapture Canyon protest

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Posted at 12:44 PM, Oct 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-28 20:11:50-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A federal judge is ordering San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman and a co-defendant to pay restitution for their roles in a protest ride in Recapture Canyon.

At the end of a hearing Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer ordered Lyman and his co-defendant, Monte Wells, to pay $95,955 in restitution. Whether it is in lieu of jail time or in addition to, will be decided at sentencing.

Lyman and Wells face sentencing in December after being convicted by a jury for their roles in the May 10, 2014 protest ride in Recapture Canyon, where people drove ATVs through the area in protest of federal road closures. Federal prosecutors claim Lyman organized the protest and Wells publicized it.

Judge Nuffer has previously rejected defense requests for new trials and an acquittal.

ATV riders in Recapture Canyon as part of a protest over use of public lands in May 2014.

ATV riders in Recapture Canyon as part of a protest over use of public lands in May 2014.

During a hearing on Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah asked the judge to order Lyman and Wells to pay about $96,000 in restitution.

Prior to the ride, which was heavily publicized, the BLM photographed areas of the canyon and set up motion-activated trail monitoring cameras. Federal prosecutors showed the judge before and after photos, including trampled vegetation, churned up dirt and ruts "as a result of motorized use."

The BLM spent about $65,000 alone to assess the damage to Recapture Canyon, federal prosecutors said, including using pack animals to bring in specialized 3D and laser scanning equipment. The feds valued the archaeological, riparian and soil damage at about $30,000.

San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman leaves federal court on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015.

San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman leaves federal court on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015.

Lyman's attorney challenged those numbers and whether the damage was really caused by the protest riders. Stirba pointed out that Lyman did not go beyond a designated area he said he'd stick to.

"This has nothing to do with where he was," Stirba told the judge. "You can't order restitution for behavior the defendant didn't engage in."

Wells' attorney, Nathan Crane, said the government cannot show who exactly was in the canyon and therefore restitution was inappropriate for either man. He said there is evidence to suggest that people are riding through Recapture Canyon -- and not just on the day of the protest.

Judge Nuffer said there was substantial documentation of the damage done "and none to the contrary." The judge also said Lyman did nothing to stop people from going into unauthorized areas.

The judge could order Lyman and Wells to pay the restitution together or separate it. He also said he would consider it in lieu of other sentencing measures (including jail time) in December.