- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Eric Lee Flores, one of the youngest people to take part in the occupation of an Oregon bird sanctuary, accepted a plea deal Thursday that might keep him out of federal prison.

Flores, 22, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to impede officers of the United States. In exchange, prosecutors dropped a charge of firearms possession in a federal facility.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel said he will recommend six months of home detention when Flores is sentenced Dec. 8. The charge carries a maximum penalty of six years in prison, but Flores is a first-time felon and he gets points for the early resolution of his case.

A member of the Tulalip Tribes north of Seattle, Flores admitted to U.S. District Court Judge Anna J. Brown that he traveled to Oregon with seven firearms - a mixture of handguns and rifles -and performed guard duty during the Ammon Bundy-led takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

He acknowledged his actions intimidated Interior Department employees, preventing them from doing their jobs.

“I thought I was doing the right thing,” Flores told the judge when asked why he participated. “I thought it was public land.”

The takeover and ensuing standoff began Jan. 2, lasted nearly six weeks and included the fatal shooting by police of rancher and occupation spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum.

Flores left after Finicum’s Jan. 26 death and was arrested in Washington when the occupation fizzled out a couple weeks later.

The occupiers wanted the federal government to relinquish public lands and free Dwight and Steven Hammond, two Oregon ranchers imprisoned for setting fires. Neither demand was met.

Flores is the second of the 26 defendants indicted on the conspiracy charge to accept a plea deal. A September trial has been scheduled for the remaining 24 defendants, including Ammon and Ryan Bundy.

A status hearing on the complex case has been set for June 15.

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Follow Steven DuBois at twitter.com/pdxdub

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