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
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY RADIO PROJECT
    Community Radio Project, Cortez, CO (KSJD & the Sunflower Theatre). Visit ksjd.org and click on the Executive Director search link. CRP is an EOE.