Feds drop charges against Pete Santilli in Malheur case

Pete Santilli still faces charges in Nevada

Pete Santilli led about 100 protesters who gathered at the Safeway parking lot in Burns, Oregon in a rally over 2 men convicted of arson on federal lands, Jan. 2, 2016 (via YouTube stream)
Pete Santilli at a protest in Burns, Jan. 2, 2016.(via YouTube stream)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Just one day before he was set to stand trial for his role in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge takeover and occupation, prosecutors dropped all Oregon charges against Pete Santilli.

The Internet radio host from Cincinnati, who was with the occupiers throughout the takeover, still faces charges in Nevada for his alleged role in the Cliven Bundy case.

In a filing on Tuesday, US Attorney Billy J. Williams said prosecutors decided not to pursue charges against Santilli because of “this Court’s pretrial evidentiary rulings excluding evidence against” him.

Pete Santilli in a May 21, 2016 mug shot from the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office
Pete Santilli in a May 21, 2016 mug shot from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.

The charges were dismissed without prejudice, which means it is as though the action had never been filed.

“It’s been our position since the beginning that Pete had innocent intentions here,” Santilli’s lawyer Tom Coan told KOIN 6 News. “He never encouraged anyone to go out and stay at the refuge.”

The other 7 defendants in the case, including Ammon and Ryan Bundy, are set to be in court on Wednesday for the beginning of jury selection.

Ammon Bundy’s former attorney Mike Arnold said he predicts the federal trial on “thought crimes” will be a long one.

“We don’t have thought crimes in America. You need, typically, overt acts to accompany speech in order to make it past First Amendment muster,” Arnold said. “In this case, the government is claiming that the possession of firearms on the property was such an overt act and the protesters are presumably going to say, ‘you know, we have a right to open carry.'”

KOIN 6 News will have full coverage of the trial beginning Wednesday.

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