In an important victory for ranchers, workers and farmers, federal Judge Gloria Navarro declared a mistrial Dec. 20 in the government’s frame-up trial against rancher Cliven Bundy, two of his sons, Ryan and Ammon, and supporter Ryan Payne. The four defendants faced 15 charges in the Las Vegas trial, including conspiracy against the United States, which could have sent them to prison for decades.
“They have been putting forth untruths, lies. They are doing everything that the government is not supposed to do,” Ryan Bundy told the press after the ruling. “Our government is supposed to protect rights — not take them, not destroy them.”
Judge Navarro set a hearing for Jan. 8 to decide whether the government’s egregious conduct means her ruling should be entered “with prejudice,” which would bar a new prosecution. Prior to the hearing Navarro had released the defendants from jail.
Cliven Bundy, however, remains in jail, refusing to sign on to any conditions in order to get out. He has been imprisoned since February 2016 because prosecutors claimed he was a “flight risk.”
The frame-up charges stem from an April 2014 protest by hundreds of Bundy supporters, including some militia members, against the Bureau of Land Management seizure of Cliven Bundy’s cattle outside his ranch in Bunkerville, Clark County, Nevada. Because of the protests, federal authorities agreed to withdraw and allow release of the cattle.
Two years later under the Barack Obama administration, the government charged and arrested 19 protesters. Twice last year Las Vegas juries acquitted or deadlocked on multiple felony charges against some of the participants. Two of the protesters, Greg Burleson and Todd Engel, were convicted in April on weapons and “obstruction” charges. When Ryan Bundy asked if Burleson and Engel’s convictions would now be overturned because of the government’s conduct, Navarro said that would be dealt with separately.
When the trial opened in mid-November, U.S. prosecutor Steven Myhre, described the Bunkerville protests as a terrifying mobilization that threatened federal employees and contractors who took Bundy’s cattle.
The Bundys and other defendants explained that their protest was part of a 20-year fight against “federal overreach” that drove dozens of Clark County ranchers out of business.
The prosecution failed to turn over six major pieces of evidence before the trial began, leading Judge Navarro to declare a mistrial. Among key evidence the prosecution withheld was proof that government agents had placed a camera to spy on the Bundy ranch and had deployed snipers there — facts the prosecution repeatedly denied.
“Failure to turn over such evidence violates due process,” Navarro stated. “A fair trial at this point is impossible.”
In 2014 hundreds of federal agents — many of them armed with long guns with telescopic sites — had confronted the pro-Bundy protesters. In his opening statement, federal prosecutor Myhre claimed the cops “were outnumbered. We were outgunned.”
The opposite was the case, Ryan Bundy, acting as his own lawyer, said in his opening statement. “You should have seen all the guns pointed at us,” he said. “Surveillance cameras on one hill. Snipers aiming at the house.”
“I do not believe there is a jury in this country that will convict us,” Ammon Bundy told the press after Navarro’s ruling.