Former BLM investigator alleges misconduct in Bundy case

In leaked document, accusations of ethics violations and unprofessionalism in Bunkerville standoff investigation.

 

In a sealed document leaked online late Thursday afternoon, a Bureau of Land Management employee alleges vast misconduct by his agency during its investigation of the 2014 armed standoff between the government and supporters of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. The document is the latest twist in a tumultuous federal trial of Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan, and Montana militiaman Ryan Payne that began Nov. 14.

The bulk of the leaked document is a correspondence from BLM Special Agent Larry C. Wooten to Associate Deputy Attorney General Andrew D. Goldsmith. In 18 pages, Wooten alleges nearly three years of misconduct including what amounts to suppression of evidence and discriminatory behavior toward the Bundys. “I routinely observed, and the investigation revealed a widespread pattern of bad judgment, lack of discipline, incredible bias, unprofessionalism and misconduct,” Wooten wrote, “as well as likely policy, ethical, and legal violations among senior and supervisory staff at the BLM’s Office of Law Enforcement and Security.”

The document began circulating after Republican Washington state Rep. Matt Shea read parts of it in a live-stream video on Thursday. The document was acquired by the Oregonian and posted on pro-Bundy media sites yesterday. HCN has independently reviewed the document. The Interior Department and did not respond to request for comment by press time; the Bureau of Land Management declined to comment. 

Wooten, who is based in Idaho, describes himself as the lead investigator regarding the failed government impoundment of Bundy’s cattle that were grazing illegally on public land. The investigation began following the April 12, 2014 standoff to assist U.S. attorneys in their case against the Bundys and several supporters. It was what Wooten calls “the largest and most expansive and important investigation ever within the Department of Interior.” The document states he was in this role for nearly three years before higher-ups removed him from the investigation in February 2017.

Wooten alleges the BLM misconduct he witnessed “showed clear prejudice against the defendants, their supporters and Mormons.” He states that “degrading fliers” about the Bundys or their supporters were passed around his office and a booking photo of Cliven Bundy was “prominently and proudly displayed.”

On Dec. 15, 2017 Ron Miller and Neil Wampler stand outside the Las Vegas federal courthouse to support the Bundy family and other defendants in a trial related to the 2014 standoff with the federal government.
Tay Wiles/High Country News

Wooten also alleges his supervisor was not forthcoming with information about the cattle impoundment to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nevada that was preparing a case against the Bundys. Wooten states that he took it upon himself to bring information to Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre: “When I asked Mr. Myhre if the former BLM (Special Agent in Charge’s) statements like ‘Go out there and kick Cliven Bundy in the mouth (or teeth) and take his cattle’... would be exculpatory or if we would have to inform the defense counsel, he said something like, ‘We do now,’ or ‘It is now.’”

In the document, Wooten alleges that his supervisor “instigated the unprofessional monitoring of jail calls between defendants and their wives, without prosecutor or FBI consent.”

Supervisors also took case files related to the investigation of the impoundment from Wooten’s office without his permission, the document alleges. Those files included information about former BLM Special Agent in Charge Dan Love, who led the failed impoundment. Wooten states that he did not know Love before the investigation, but that he was told “time after time” of Love’s history of misconduct, such as: “Directing Subordinates to Erase Official Government Files in order to impede the efforts of rival civilian BLM employees in preparation for the ‘Burning Man’ Special Event, unlawfully removing evidence, bragging about the number of (Office of Inspector General) and internal investigations on him and indicating that he was untouchable.” Wooten writes: “It is my assessment and the investigation showed that the 2014 Gold Butte Trespass Cattle Impound was in part a punitive and ego driven expedition by a Senior BLM Law Enforcement Supervisor.”

In the document, Wooten says his intent is not to defend the Bundys. “This investigation also showed that subjects of the investigation in part adopted an aggressive and bully type strategy that ultimately led to the shutdown of I-15, where many armed followers of Cliven Bundy brandished and pointed weapons at the Federal Officers and the Agents in the Toquop Wash near Bunkerville, Nevada."

However, the document could undermine the government’s case against the Bundy family and its supporters. Prosecutors provided the Wooten document to the Bundy defense team on Dec. 8. Cliven Bundy’s attorney Bret Whipple and Ammon Bundy’s co-counsel Morgan Philpot filed a motion to dismiss the case based on the Wooten document, on Dec. 11. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment. 

Their motion was the latest in a long series filed by the defense in recent months. Unrelated to the Wooten document, prosecutors filed a response yesterday to earlier motions to dismiss based on allegations that the government has not been forthcoming with evidence throughout the trial. U.S. District Court Judge of Nevada Gloria Navarro is expected to rule on those motions early next week.

Friday morning outside the Las Vegas federal courthouse a couple dozen supporters of the Bundy family gathered with signs. “From being the accused, the Bundy family have become the accusers themselves,” said Neil Wampler of California, who participated in the 2014 confrontation as well the 2016 occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. He was acquitted on charges related to the Oregon standoff earlier this year. “We are putting the federal government on trial.”

Tay Wiles is an associate editor at High Country News and can be reached at taywiles@hcn.org.