N.M. Rancher Arrested in Grazing Fight

Mar 16, 12:55 AM (ET)


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A rancher whose cattle were seized in a long-running battle with the government over grazing rights was charged with assault for allegedly threatening U.S. Forest Service officers and trying to free his impounded livestock.

It took four officers to wrestle a kicking Kit Laney, 43, to the ground Sunday night, according to a federal criminal complaint released Monday.

Laney remained in custody on charges including assault on a peace officer, obstruction of a court order and intimidation. He appeared briefly in court Monday, and was scheduled for a detention hearing Tuesday.

According to the complaint, Laney yelled profanities while charging his horse toward three Forest Service officers who were guarding an enclosure holding some of Laney's seized cattle.

The complaint said one of the officers injured his knee and shin when he was knocked off his feet.

Laney then taunted the officers and tried to remove fencing the government is using to temporarily hold his cattle, the complaint said.

"Whenever the officers approached Laney, he guided his horse in their direction, threatening to ram or trample them," according to the complaint.

Laney was also accused of using his leather reins to thrash one of the workers conducting the roundup.

After Laney dismounted, one officer used pepper spray but Laney, wearing spurs on his boots, started kicking, the complaint said. Four officers finally subdued him on the ground.

Authorities began rounding up some 400 cattle from Laney's 146,000-acre Diamond Bar Ranch last week after a judge found the rancher and his ex-wife, Sherry, in contempt of court for grazing cattle in the Gila National Forest in violation of earlier court rulings.

Sherry Laney, who has been videotaping the roundup, did not immediately return calls Monday from The Associated Press.

She told the Albuquerque Journal that she and Kit have divorced but that she still lives and ranches with him. Although she was not with him during Sunday's incident, she said she did not believe he would have tried to forcibly remove his cattle from the federal enclosure.

A call to Kit Laney's court-appointed lawyer was not immediately returned.

While many ranchers in the West lease federal land for grazing and other uses, the Laneys, who bought the ranch in 1985, do not hold a lease for the Gila land. They contend they have grazing rights based on historical use of the land predating the forest's creation in 1964.

Marcia Andre, supervisor of the forest, said courts have made clear that grazing on federal land is a privilege, not a right.

"We take no pleasure in impounding the Laneys' livestock," she said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the Laneys have forced us to take this action."

The Forest Service has seized more than 200 cattle so far in a roundup expected to take several weeks.



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