Bundys looking to clear charges, not start next land fight
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A mistrial marked a major step this week in favor of a family of ranchers accused of leading armed standoffs in two states to oppose U.S. control of vast stretches of land in the American West.
But states’ rights activist Cliven Bundy and his sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy are not clear of legal troubles and say they are not gearing up for another fight in a decadeslong dispute with the government over management of public lands.
The Bundys and Montana militia leader Ryan Payne are charged with conspiracy, assault and threats over an armed confrontation with federal agents who were rounding up of Bundy cattle on public land in 2014.
Here is what is expected next in the case:
A BID FOR FREEDOM
Cliven Bundy, 71, remained behind bars as a protest Thursday, a day after Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro declared a mistrial. She set a Jan. 8 hearing to decide whether charges should be dismissed outright.
Bundy had refused Navarro’s Nov. 30 offer to be freed to house arrest during the trial, with GPS monitoring and other restrictions. His sons and Payne took the deal, but the elder Bundy is holding out on principle until he is completely free, his lawyer and family members say.
Attorney Bret Whipple asked Wednesday for federal detention officials to take another look at his client’s file and submitted court documents seeking Bundy’s release without conditions. A hearing wasn’t immediately set.
Cliven Bundy has been behind bars since Feb. 10, 2016. He was arrested at Portland International Airport in Oregon after flying to visit his sons in jail.
Ryan and Ammon Bundy had led an armed takeover of a national wildlife refuge in early 2016 to demand the government turn over public land to local control. They were arrested during a traffic stop outside the refuge that ended with police fatally shooting a spokesman for the occupation. They were later acquitted of all charges.
Cliven Bundy was not charged in the Oregon standoff. Whipple said his client has been jailed for more than 22 months without being convicted of any crime in the Nevada standoff near his ranch.
Navarro found prosecutors violated the four defendants’ due process rights by failing to turn over records that could help the defense and denying that federal authorities had positioned snipers and surveillance cameras on hilltops around the Bundy ranch.
The judge cited 3,300 pages of previously undisclosed FBI and Bureau of Land Management records relating to the standoff and the abandoned roundup of Bundy cattle that should have been provided to defense attorneys ahead of the November trial.
Navarro also ordered a review and the refiling of many key documents that were submitted under seal. Media organizations including The Associated Press had objected to the secrecy.
NEXT STEPS IN THE CASE
The judge scheduled the hearing next month to give prosecutors and defense teams time to submit written arguments about whether the case should be dismissed.
“A fair trial at this point is impossible with this jury,” the judge declared Wednesday. But “the court is not determining or making a finding (that) the defendants are in fact not guilty.”
She also set a new trial date, Feb. 26. Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre didn’t immediately say whether he would seek to retry the case.
U.S. Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior said in an email Thursday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has personally ordered a review of the case to decide what to do next.
AMMON AND RYAN BUNDY
With their legal fate unresolved, one of the two eldest Bundy brothers said they were not immediately looking for another battle to protest federal land policies.
Ryan Bundy, who has been representing himself at trial, said during a brief interview that others could take up the fight.
“We only have what rights we’re willing to fight for. Why don’t others start fighting for freedom?” he asked. “It’s not only our fight. People who want freedom should take up the battle and not leave it up to someone else.”
Bundy said he would “follow the spirit of the Lord” and that he didn’t know what that would be.