We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
-The Declaration of Independence
On May 10th, 2014, Commissioner Phil Lyman of San Juan County, Utah organized a road closure protest in Recapture Canyon after years of inaction from the BLM. An important and historic highway dating to the late 1800s had been arbitrarily closed in Recapture Canyon in 2007 and two citizens were erroneously charged with misdemeanors and fined $30,000 for maintaining, with permission, that road, which runs along the canyon floor.
The Road in the bottom of Recapture Canyon
Immediately following the closure of the road in Recapture Canyon, the citizens of San Juan County worked to set the record straight and get the road reopened. For several years, all the prescribed and legal pathways were patiently followed. The BLM continually promised that a decision on the road was right around the corner, but these promises proved to be empty time and time again. The Blanding City Council had meetings with local BLM officials in 2012 to see what could be done to move the process along, as well as to express frustrations concerning the arbitrary closing of trails all over the county. Hear the audio recordings below.
After seven years of pleading and petitions to the BLM by local government and citizens alike, Commissioner Lyman called a town hall meeting to discuss what action should be taken on the part of San Juan County. It was suggested by two men that a protest be carried out on the road. From that February 27th meeting up until May 10th, Commissioner Lyman informed and consulted with all parties and organizations that would be interested or affected by this action. Permission was obtained to hold the protest on a county pipeline road. Commissioner Lyman expressed several times his desire to avoid the protest and simply dissolve the stalemate between San Juan County and the BLM. After giving the BLM every chance to work with the county, the protest was indeed carried out on May 10th. An excursion was made into the canyon on a one-mile stretch of county claimed, owned, and maintained pipeline road. There was no conflict and the event was peaceful. Commissioner Lyman emphasized the importance of not going beyond that pipeline road at the pre-protest rally and he and his followers did not cross that line.
However, after petitions from NGOs to the Department of Justice and to Juan Palma, state director of BLM Utah at the time, charges were filed and a court hearing was had. Commissioner Lyman was convicted of two misdemeanor counts, including conspiracy against the United States, and is threatened with one year in federal prison and over $300,000 in exaggerated and unjust fines and restitution for supposed damages. That an elected official could be convicted of such crimes for representing the interests of his constituents and carrying out a peaceful, authorized, and permitted protest is a brazen attack on his individual liberty and an attack on the liberties of elected officials everywhere.
We are raising awareness of this story. We do no support lawlessness, but there were no laws broken in this instance. The protest was carried out on a regularly traveled and maintained county pipeline road and permission was received from the Water Master of San Juan County who oversees the pipeline. Juan Palma himself gave permission directly to Commissioner Lyman in a phone call on May 1st (see video below). Commissioner Lyman was denied due process and no investigation--save an open-source investigation for conspiracy--was held in connection with these supposed crimes. The trial was littered with inconsistencies and contradictions (see Judge and the Prosecution).
Please refer to this timeline for a full understanding of the story.