Cliven Bundy case ruled a mistrial

The ruling represents an unprecedented failure for federal prosecutors on Western lands issues.

 

Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, his sons and supporters have confounded federal authorities once again. On Wednesday morning, a federal judge declared a mistrial after just five weeks of what was expected to be a four-month trial of Bundy, sons Ammon and Ryan, and Montana militiaman Ryan Payne.

U.S. District Court of Nevada Judge Gloria Navarro said in court she had no option but to declare a mistrial because prosecutors withheld evidence and missed deadlines to provide information that could have helped the defense. For the prosecutors and the Bureau of Land Management, the mistrial is an unprecedented failure to enforce federal authority on public lands.

bundy-newsshort-jpg
Ammon Bundy, right, and Carol Bundy, his mom and wife of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, speak with reporters outside of a federal courthouse in Las Vegas after Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro declared a mistrial Dec. 20 in the case against Cliven Bundy, his sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy and self-styled Montana militia leader Ryan Payne.
John Locher/Associated Press

In 2014, the Bundys faced off with the BLM and National Park Service near Bunkerville, Nevada, over the family’s illegally grazing cattle. Last year, the Bundy sons and several supporters were acquitted for their 2016 occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The failure to convict them of any charges raises serious questions about the government’s ability to enforce court orders or manage resources in accordance with federal environmental laws. “You can’t just let (the Bundys) go on, because if you do, you might as well close the BLM,” says Mike Ford, a former BLM employee of 25 years who once served as deputy state director in Nevada.

Bundy and his co-defendants faced 16 charges, including conspiracy against the United States and threatening and assaulting federal officers. In opening statements in mid-November, Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre described the standoff as a terrifying assault by hundreds of Bundy supporters, including militia members, on federal employees and contractors gathering cattle illegally grazing on federal land. Defense attorneys said the events were part of a 20-year peaceful protest by Cliven Bundy against federal overreach that put dozens of Clark County ranchers out of business. No shots were fired at the standoff, which the Bundys say is proof of their peaceful intentions.

For the Bundys and their supporters, the mistrial represents vindication, a sign that they have been right all along about federal overreach in how it handled the attempted impoundment nearly three years ago. Ammon Bundy’s co-counsel, Morgan Philpot, a former Utah state representative, said outside the courtroom Wednesday that there needs to be a Congressional inquiry into the BLM and “why they’re a paramilitary force.”

Since the start of trial, defense attorneys have been on the offense, filing a flood of motions to dismiss the case. They argued prosecutors failed to provide evidence, such as information about an FBI surveillance camera on public land near the Bundys’ protest site and residence and other details on the federal law enforcement officers’ tactics that could have helped the defense. Navarro concurred in her declaration of mistrial.

The judge will rule on whether the mistrial will be with or without prejudice, on Jan. 8, 2018. A mistrial with prejudice would be a similar result to a dismissal. If Navarro rules a mistrial without prejudice, prosecutors may decide to try the case again. The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on what steps they plan to take next in the case.

Tay Wiles is an associate editor of High Country News.

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES GENERALIST
    Honor the Earth is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate based on identity. Indigenous people, people of color, Two-Spirit or LGBTQA+ people,...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!