The federal government's long efforts to get Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and members of his family behind bars seems to have come to an end, as U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro today dismissed with prejudice all federal charges against Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan, and co-defendant Ryan Payne. (The "with prejudice" part means the government can't just try again on the same charges.)
Judge Navarro complained of "flagrant prosecutorial misconduct" in the case against the Bundys, including violating the Brady rule regarding withholding potentially exculpatory evidence from the Bundys legal team.
This decision comes after the same judge last month declared a mistrial in the case; the government was trying to get a new trial launched. As Fox News reported, "Navarro had suspended the trial earlier and warned of a mistrial when prosecutors released information after a discovery deadline. Overall, the government was late in handing over more than 3,300 pages of documents. Further, some defense requests for information that ultimately came to light had been ridiculed by prosecutors as 'fantastical' and a 'fishing expedition.'"
What Navarro objected to withholding most, as reported by Arizona Republic:
Records about surveillance at the Bundy ranch;
Maps about government surveillance;
Records about the presence of government snipers;
FBI logs about activity at the ranch in the days leading up to standoff;
Law-enforcement assessments dating to 2012 that found the Bundys posed no threat;
Internal affairs reports about misconduct by Bureau of Land Management agents.
"Failure to turn over such evidence violates due process," Navarro said last month. "A fair trial at this point is impossible."
Former Acting Nevada U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre, leading the prosecution, wrote all the above off as either inadvertent or insignificant error, not malfeasance, on the government's part.
The charges against the four men were all related to actions during the 2014 standoff on Bundy's Nevada ranch over his failure to pay fees to the Bureau of Land Management they insisted he owed.
The four men were specifically charged in 2016 with "one count of conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, one count of conspiracy to impede or injure a federal officer, four counts of using and carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, two counts of assault on a federal officer, two counts of threatening a federal law enforcement officer, three counts of obstruction of the due administration of justice, two counts of interference with interstate commerce by extortion, and one count of interstate travel in aid of extortion. The indictment also alleges five counts of criminal forfeiture which upon conviction would require forfeiture of property derived from the proceeds of the crimes totaling at least $3 million, as well as the firearms and ammunition possessed and used on April 12, 2014."
The Arizona Republic goes on to note Navarro didn't even mention other disturbing accusations against the Bundy prosecution, including:
another document turned over to the defense in December...that raises more criticism of the BLM's conduct and use of force during the standoff.
A federal investigator alleged in a Nov. 27 memo to the assistant U.S. attorney general that prosecutors in the Bundy ranch standoff trial covered up misconduct by law-enforcement agents who engaged in "likely policy, ethical and legal violations."
In an 18-page memo, Special Agent Larry Wooten said he "routinely observed ... a widespread pattern of bad judgment, lack of discipline, incredible bias, unprofessionalism and misconduct" among agents involved in the 2014 standoff.
He said his investigation indicated federal agents used excessive force and committed civil-rights and policy violations.
James Bovard, a lifelong chronicler of federal police power abuse, wrote in USA Today last week about many of the government's seemingly malicious missteps in the prosecution, including that:
The feds charged the Bundys with conspiracy in large part because the ranchers summoned militia to defend them after they claimed that FBI snipers had surrounded their ranch. Justice Department lawyers scoffed at this claim in prior trials involving the standoff but newly-released documents confirm that snipers were in place prior to the Bundy's call for help.
The feds also belatedly turned over multiple threat assessments which revealed that the Bundys were not violent or dangerous, including an FBI analysis that concluded that BLM was "trying to provoke a conflict" with the Bundys. As an analysis in the left-leaning Intercept observed, federal missteps in this case "fueled longstanding perceptions among the right-wing groups and militias that the federal government is an underhanded institution that will stop at nothing to crush the little guy and cover up its own misdeeds."
The Associated Press (via Chicago Tribune) noted the larger issues raised by the prosecution, and this dismissal:
Gregg Cawley, a University of Wyoming professor who writes about land protests in the West, said a collapse of the case would be seen by many as a victory for states' rights.
"But it would not actually be a clean victory," Cawley said. "Conspiracy is very hard to prove. The Bundys got acquitted in Oregon. But if charges in Nevada are dropped, there's no resolution to the question.
"It could be seen as criminals going free on a technicality, rather than an actual vindication."
But when the "technicalities" are related to the government's apparent willingness to violate principles of justice to get people who defy them, the message seems clear nonetheless.
The Oregonian has a detailed account of the federal prosecutors' failed attempt to excuse their behavior, including many original documents.
The Intercept reported earlier in the year on the FBI's disturbing practice of pretending to be a documentary journalism team in order to gather info on the Bundys' supporters.
Among the miscarriage of justice against the Bundys and their allies was federal agents' murder (and lying about it) of LaVoy Finicum, one of the occupiers of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge on the part of Bundy supporters. The feds had already failed to get convictions against many others involved in that occupation.
Others still remain under prosecution related to the Bundy standoff. Ryan Bundy after today's dismissal called for their charges to be dropped as well, reported the Las Vegas Review Journal. "The government has acted wrongly from the get-go," Bundy said.