Swarms Post: Sheep herder jailed for contempt faces second contempt charge.
Archuleta County, Colorado rancher Stephen (Steve) Keno, who has already served one week in jail and been fined $1,000 on a contempt of court charge related to allegedly grazing his sheep illegally, is now facing a second contempt of court action which could result in a 30-day sentence along with a $5,000 fine for the same offense. A hearing has been set for August 23 at the Archuleta County District Court in Pagosa Springs. FTCLDF General Counsel Gary Cox is now representing Keno.
On April 2, the Aspen Springs Metropolitan District (ASMD) obtained an injunction from the Archuleta County District Court prohibiting Keno from grazing on 124 acres of open space owned by ASMD; Keno’s property borders this greenbelt. On April 11, ASMD filed an Emergency Motion to show cause on why Keno should not be in contempt of court, claiming that he was continuing to graze livestock on the district’s land in violation of the injunction.
A hearing on ASMD’s motion was held on June 19; on June 28, Judge James Denvir sentenced Keno to one week in jail and a $1,000 fine for being in contempt of the court order granting the injunction. On July 14, Katherine Burke, the attorney for ASMD, filed a second contempt of court motion against Keno, recommending in her filing that the court immediately remand Keno to jail for 30 days and fine him $5,000. In addition to the illegal grazing charge, Burke’s motion also asks for Keno to be punished for his supporters setting up a Facebook page with the rancher’s “knowledge and approval” that “published names and phone numbers of ASMD’s witnesses in this case along with numbers for the judges involved and court clerk.” The second contempt motion states that following the publication of this information, “two of ASMD’s witnesses and its attorney receive anonymous, harassing phone calls.” Keno had no involvement with the website.
The ASMD was originally formed in 1987 to handle road maintenance for the residents of the district. In 2003 Archuleta County deeded to ASMD the open land Keno is accused of illegal grazing on; the county has no fencing around the land. As Keno and his supporters point out, Colorado has a “fence out” law, meaning Keno can legally graze his flock of sixty sheep on any property that does not have a fence around it. Further, Keno has permission of property owners next to the district’s open space to graze on their property, occasionally the rancher’s sheep do stray onto but it is not something Keno is doing intentionally; is this an offense he should be jailed for?
Keno is a 66-year-old farmer, living mainly on disability payments. He also makes some money selling sheep but does not have much income and has not been able to afford to pay the $1,000 fine levied against him for violating the injunction. He has battled the district before, being twice acquitted of the charge of grazing his flock along a roadside back in 2004 and again in 2006. He says if he is jailed on the second contempt charge, he will lose his flock.
The question that hasn’t been answered yet is why is the district trying to punish him so severely for his sheep wandering on to public lands? He is being targeted for an activity the law is supposed to protect.
In 2005, Keno received a letter from the ASMD chairman confirming that the ASMD’s policy “has always been to allow public grazing on our greenbelt property, provided that no grazer may fence any of the property or damage the property in any way. This policy was reaffirmed at the last board meeting held Tuesday, September 13, 2005.” Further, the letter goes on to state, “This policy shall remain in effect until such time as the property becomes a park or other use. At that time, appropriate notices will be posted.” ASMD is claiming that it changed the policy in 2006 and also passed a resolution in 2011 prohibiting grazing on the district’s land without its permission.