Bundy refuses in court to recognize US authority in Nevada
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Jailed Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy refused Thursday to acknowledge federal authority and declined to enter a plea to federal charges that he led an armed standoff against a round-up of cattle two years ago.
After several minutes of confusion about whether Bundy had a lawyer, U.S. Magistrate Judge Carl Hoffman entered a not guilty plea on Bundy’s behalf and scheduled a detention hearing March 17.
Arguments then will focus on whether the 69-year-old Bundy should remain in custody pending trial on 16 charges, including conspiracy, assault and threatening a federal officer, obstruction and firearms offenses.
It could be many months before trial. Federal prosecutor Steven Myhre told the judge the case involving 19 defendants would be slow-tracked as “complex.”
“I make no plea before this court,” Bundy said, standing in a courtroom full of family members, friends, media, court officials and U.S. marshals.
Bundy wore a maroon-colored Henderson city jail uniform, with his ankles shackled and his hands free during the 15-minute hearing. He waved before the hearing to his wife, Carol Bundy, and several adult children and supporters among about 40 people in the courtroom audience.
Joel Hansen, a Nevada attorney who has represented property rights advocates in a number of cases in the state, served as Bundy’s attorney. But Hansen told the judge that Bundy plans to get another lawyer for trial.
Hansen said Bundy’s refusal to enter a plea was a statement that he couldn’t have done anything wrong because federal law doesn’t apply.
Bundy has consistently denied U.S. government authority over rangeland around his 160-acre cattle ranch and melon farm in Bunkerville, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
Federal BLM officials said in 2014 that he owed more than $1.1 million in fees and penalties for grazing hundreds of cows illegally for about 20 years.
“Mr. Bundy feels like he needs to stand up for the rights of all Americans in all states, and for the states to be the owner of public land and not the federal government,” Hansen said outside court. “In the West, the government owns most of the land. He thinks that’s wrong.”
Bundy’s second court appearance in Nevada drew about 100 protesters, including some carrying guns on their hips and others wearing cowboy hats, waving American flags and toting signs calling for Bundy’s release. Nevada allows open-carrying of guns.
The scene was peaceful, with chants like “U-S-A!” and “The FBI lied and a man died!” and “Wake up America!” directed toward passing vehicles. The death referred to the fatal shooting on Jan. 26 of Robert “Lavoy” Finicum by Oregon state police.
In Oregon, the Deschutes County sheriff’s office released hundreds of pages of documents Thursday including forensic reports and interview transcripts from its investigation of Finicum’s death. The 55-year-old from Cane Beds, Arizona, was a key figure in the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
A prosecutor in Oregon determined this week that the shooting was justified. Two officers said they believed Finicum was moments away from drawing his pistol and shooting one of their colleagues.
“I didn’t want to wait for him (Finicum) to bring out a firearm, because I knew that by the time that I was able to recognize and deal with it, that he could have very likely shot” the third officer, one state trooper told investigators.
In Las Vegas, uniformed and plainclothes police and U.S. marshals remained largely unseen, but cameras in a conspicuous portable police surveillance tower kept close watch on the demonstration. No arrests were reported.
Jaime Spears, who traveled from St. Augustine, Florida, sold $20 T-shirts bearing the phrase “Whatever it takes.” It recalls Bundy’s vow to resist a federal Bureau of Land Management round-up of cattle from public rangeland in the protected Gold Butte area around his ranch.
“We’re thanking everyone for their support and their prayers,” Carol Bundy said on the sidewalk. The mother of 14 maintained the federal government has no jurisdiction to hold her husband and four of her sons, who are among 19 people charged in the April 2014 standoff.
Bundy was arrested Feb. 10 when he arrived at Portland International Airport on his way to visit sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy in jail. They were arrested Jan. 26 on charges that they led a 41-day armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge near Burns, Oregon. Cliven Bundy was returned last week in custody to Nevada.
Convictions in the case in Las Vegas could result in penalties up to life in prison.
Associated Press writer Terrence Petty in Portland, Oregon, contributed to this report.