A Modesto man was sentenced in federal court on Monday for assaulting a security guard in downtown Fresno, said U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert. Matthew Faron Blair, 33, was sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison. Court documents say he assaulted the guard on Oct. 14, 2014 during a visit to the Social Security Administration office. After workers told Blaire his benefits had stopped but could be renewed with paperwork, he became agitated, according to court documents. As Blair was being escorted out of the office by a security guard, he physically assaulted the guard, causing head and mouth injuries that required medical treatment.
A federal judge on Monday sentenced Oregon refuge occupier Geoffrey Stanek, described as one of the more minor players indicted in the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, to two years of probation, including six months of home detention. U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown said the home detention was warranted, partly to ensure Stanek doesn’t respond again to a “call to arms” from Facebook acquaintances on behalf of “We the People.”
“You’re free to think what you choose, but your conduct crossed the line,” the judge said. “I need to be sure you won’t take it upon yourself to answer that type of call again. … You need to put this chapter behind you. You need to respect the law, whether you agree with it or not.”
The judge said she considered that Stanek entered a guilty plea early to a federal conspiracy charge last year and that he didn’t withdraw his plea after occupation leaders who went to trial were acquitted last fall. The fact that he heeded the FBI’s request that he and others leave the refuge the night of Jan. 26, 2016, after the arrests of Ammon Bundy and others leaders, also worked in his favor, the judge said.
“On the other hand, you were part of the problem,” Brown told Stanek. Stanek, 27, brought an AR-15 rifle and a body armor vest to the refuge on Jan. 7, 2016, after learning of the takeover on Facebook. There, he performed armed guard duty in the watchtower and at the refuge entrances. He also blocked a refuge entrance with an ATV belonging to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Stanek thought the takeover of the refuge was a “constitutional protest,” his lawyer Benjamin Andersen said.
“He didn’t really have a concept of what was actually going on,” Andersen said. Stanek, who served in the Army from about 18 until 21, said he also had medic training and thought he could use his medic skills at the refuge if things got out of hand.
“It’s hard to wrap your head around,” the judge said. “Somehow you were preparing for a bloodbath.”
Stanek was allowed to leave the refuge through an FBI checkpoint and was arrested two weeks later in Forest Grove. Stanek’s lawyer argued against home detention and found it unfair that Stanek wasn’t allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor trespass offense as three other co-defendants later did, including Sean and Sandra Anderson who were among the last four holdouts at the refuge during a tense standoff with federal agents.
But the judge found Stanek more “culpable” than the Andersons, who got a year probation for a misdemeanor plea to trespass. The Andersons traveled back and forth to the refuge several times and didn’t perform guard duty as often as Stanek, the judge said.
“You came, you stayed and stayed and stayed and then you left,” Brown said to Stanek. Federal prosecutors didn’t allow Stanek to plea to a misdemeanor because of a threatening Facebook message he had with co-defendant Corey Lequieu in the days after he left the refuge, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel told the judge.
Lequieu and Stanek talked about killing federal agents on social media at a time when the FBI was concerned about refuge occupiers returning to the west encampment where four people remained holed up during the last two weeks of the standoff, Gabriel said. Gabriel also acknowledged that prosecutors learned from the trial of Ammon Bundy, his older brother, Ryan Bundy and five co-defendants. They were all acquitted of federal conspiracy and weapons charges last fall. Prosecutors also paid attention to the concerns of a juror from the first trial who spoke to The Oregonian/OregonLive shortly after the verdict.
“The government took a lot of lessons from the first trial, your honor, to be candid,” Gabriel said, noting that jurors concluded that “whatever was happening at the west encampment was not part of a conspiracy.” That’s partly why Sandra and Sean Anderson were given a chance to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, he said.
Eleven people pleaded guilty to the felony of conspiring to impede federal employees through intimidation, threat or force from doing their work. Sentences for those who enter guilty pleas to the felony are expected to range from home detention and probation to three years and five months in prison, Gabriel said. Stanek and four others, Wesley Kjar, Eric Lee Flores, Travis Cox and Jason Blomgren, are considered “low-level defendants” facing similar probationary sentences, Gabriel said.
The government will recommend Ryan Payne receive three years and five months in custody, the longest sentence of those who entered guilty pleas to conspiracy, Gabriel said. Others who have pleaded guilty to the felony charge are Lequieu, who got two years and six months in prison, and Brian Cavalier, who received time served with about nine months in custody. No federal employees spoke Monday. What’s important to them, Gabriel said, are conditions set for Stanek and others not to occupy, reside in or camp on any federal land or enter land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service or the U.S. Forest Service without a probation officer’s approval.
“It was very costly to the government financially and to employees emotionally,” Gabriel said. “The victims continue to suffer because of the occupation in this case.”
Brown, who is retiring next month, said the case “has been the most challenging legal experience of my career.” She noted the wide range of legal perspectives and motivations in the case, and the constant second-guessing. As Stanek stood beside his lawyer, the judge asked him what his plan was going forward.
“Plan on working hard to be a father to my daughter,” said Stanek, dressed in black pants and a short-sleeved plaid button-down shirt with a pocket Constitution in his left shirt pocket.
“You’re going to have to get a job, plan for a career and a life,” Brown replied, and urged him to seek out veterans’ services to help find employment. Stanek has no prior criminal history. He previously worked as a security guard and was in the process of becoming a firefighter when he went to the refuge last year. He’s had trouble finding a job since his conviction, his lawyer said.
The judge told Stanek if he does well on home detention after three months, his probation officer can request the court reduce or eliminate the it.
“I think you’ve earned the chance to play it out this way,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t want to see you again, Mr. Stanek.”
“No offense, I don’t want to see you again either,” Stanek replied.
“It’s a deal,” the judge said. “Make it work.”
— Maxine Bernstein
Charles Camiel looks into the camera for a facial recognition test before boarding his JetBlue flight to Aruba at Logan International Airport in Boston. Robin Lubbock/WBUR hide caption
toggle caption Robin Lubbock/WBUR
Michelle Moynihan, who was flying to Aruba for a wedding, says facial recognition would make her life easier.
“Typically when I travel I have my three kids with me and I travel alone with them,” she says. “They’re all under age 10, so flipping through multiple boarding passes on my phone, making sure I have all the kids, all the backpacks, all the suitcases can be cumbersome and frustrating.”
Moynihan gets in line and right before she gets to the jet bridge, there’s a camera that’s about the size of a shoebox. It takes her photo and she gets a checkmark, saying she’s good to go. The whole process takes about 5 to 6 seconds.
“We’re basically capturing that picture at the boarding gate and then providing it to U.S. Customs and Border protection,” says Sean Farrell, who works for SITA, the company running this technology. SITA provides a lot of the IT infrastructure you see at airports.
“It’s actually the U.S. government that’s implementing the biometric matching system,” he says.
The government uses existing databases to compare a traveler’s face against all the other passengers on the flight manifest. JetBlue is pitching this idea of facial recognition as convenience for customers. It’s voluntary. But it’s also part of a broader push by Customs and Border Protection to create a biometric exit system to track non-U.S. citizens leaving the country. After the Sept. 11 attacks, there was a lot of talk about the necessity of a biometric exit system, but the tech and computing power just wasn’t good enough. Now, facial recognition experts say it’s more accurate.
And Farrell sees a future not too far off where our faces could be our IDs.
“The end game is that in a few years’ time you’ll be able to go through the airport basically just using your face,” he says. “If you have bags to drop off, you’ll be able to use the self-service system and just have your face captured and matched. You’ll then go to security, the same thing. … And then you go to the boarding gate, and again just use your biometric.”
But that worries people like Adam Schwartz, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights group. He says facial recognition is a uniquely invasive form of surveillance.
“We can change our bank account numbers, we even can change our names, but we cannot change our faces,” Schwartz says. “And once the information is out there, it could be misused.”
Kade Crockford, director of the Technology for Liberty Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts, says she’s particularly concerned by the JetBlue program because of the government’s role.
“The biometric databases that the government is amassing are simply another tool, and a very powerful tool of government control,” she says.
Customs and Border Protection insists it will discard facial recognition photos taken of U.S. citizens at the airport, and only keep a database of non-U.S. citizens.
Back at Logan Airport, passenger Yeimy Quezada feels totally comfortable sharing her face instead of a barcode.
“Even your cellphone recognizes selfies and recognize faces, so I’m used to that technology already,” she says. “And, I’m not concerned about privacy because I’m a firm believer that if you’re not hiding anything, you shouldn’t be afraid of anything.”
Customs is running similar biometric tests at airports in Atlanta, New York and the Washington, D.C., area. The goal is to deploy facial recognition tech widely by early next year.