Montana man in Oregon refuge and Nevada standoff cases freed |

Montana man in Oregon refuge and Nevada standoff cases freed

Ken Ritter
Associated Press
Nevada ranching standoff defendant Ryan Payne, facing camera, hugs a friend outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Las Vegas following his release on Friday after 22 months in federal custody.

LAS VEGAS — A Montana man who took part in the occupation of an Oregon national wildlife refuge and is standing trial in an armed standoff with federal agents outside a Nevada ranch was released Friday from jail to house arrest in Las Vegas.

Ryan Payne kissed his fiancé, hugged friends and prayed with supporters after he emerged from the U.S. District Courthouse after 22 months in federal custody. He declined to speak with reporters.

“I don’t have any media statements,” he said after speaking with his lawyers, Brenda Wecksler and Ryan Norwood.

Payne, 34, of Anaconda, Montana, led a self-described militia called Operation Mutual Aid and traveled to Nevada in 2014 to back rancher Cliven Bundy and his family in a confrontation that grew from a decades-long dispute with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The dispute involved cattle grazing on public land in areas including what is now Gold Butte National Monument. Bundy says he doesn’t recognize federal authority on public land.

Payne is standing trial with the Bundy family patriarch and two sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, on federal charges including conspiracy in the armed confrontation with federal agents in Nevada.

Federal prosecutors cast the standoff as an armed uprising, not a peaceful protest.

Payne has been in federal custody since his arrest with Ammon and Ryan Bundy on Jan. 26, 2016, outside Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Payne pleaded guilty in July 2016 in Portland to a felony conspiracy charge for his role leading the occupation. The Bundy brothers were acquitted of all charges.

Payne’s release came a day after Ammon Bundy was released from jail to house arrest with friends in the Las Vegas area and GPS monitoring.

Ryan Bundy also is out of jail, while Cliven Bundy, 71, remains behind bars in support of several other defendants still in federal custody.