Prosecutorial bungling in the Cliven Bundy case that led a federal judge to declare a mistrial threatens to misdirect attention from a key fact.
Judge Gloria Navarro in announcing the mistrial importantly and crucially noted that it does not mean the men are not guilty.
“This is not the court’s decision,” she said, according to a Washington Post report.
Bundy and his two sons, Ammon and Ryan, have been charged with conspiring to commit a crime against federal officials during an armed standoff at their Nevada ranch in Bunkerville over grazing rights for their cattle. Specifically, the government alleges Bundy and his sons “planned, organized, conspired, led or participated as gunmen in a massive armed assault against federal law enforcement officers to threaten, intimidate and extort the officers into abandoning 400 head of cattle owned by Bundy.”
During the standoff, armed supporters aimed assault rifles at federal officers, according to court documents, and “the potential firefight posed a threat to the lives of everyone on scene, not only the officers but also unnamed bystanders including children.”
The standoff in 2014 came after BLM officers, backed by a court order, moved to roundup Bundy’s livestock after he failed to pay fees and fines for two decades, racking up $1 million in fees, and had lost all previous legal efforts to skirt the law.
What’s lost in all this uproar over how the feds have handled the 2014 case is the fact that Bundy still hasn’t paid the fees owed to American taxpayers and his cows are still grazing on federal lands. This despite the fact that there was a clear reason these Western lands were closed to grazing in 1992 — to protect the endangered tortoise.
“The mistrial is not a victory for the Bundys as they may claim, a jury never found them not guilty. However, there are clear losers (at least for now): justice and public lands,’’ said Friends of Animals Assistant Legal Director Jennifer Best.
Because the potential firefight at the standoff posed a threat, federal officers were forced to abandon their efforts to confiscate the impounded cattle and afterwards “conspirators organized armed security patrols and checkpoints in and around Bunkerville to deter and prevent any future law enforcement actions” against Bundy and his cattle, prosecutors stated in court documents.
Judge Navarro is now reviewing arguments about whether the case should be dismissed or Bundy and his cohorts should face a new court and a hearing is scheduled for January 8. Prosecutors argued in documents filed in December that it neither flagrantly nor recklessly disregarded its evidence obligations.
“Failure to disclose the information underlying the court’s mistrial order was due, in a few instances, to simple inadvertence, but in the overwhelming majority of instances to a good faith, and we submit, reasonable belief that the information was not subject to disclosure.”
Meanwhile, Ammon and Ryan Bundy were already acquitted on similar charges after they staged a six-week armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in Oregon.
Certainly, there are a lot of issues at play in this case, including a government headed by a President who fans public distrust of federal oversight, a president who is turning over public lands to grazing and oil interests at record pace and conservative politicians in Nevada who openly criticized the BLM’s actions. And there’s a federal trial team that seems to have forgotten – willfully, said the judge — to follow the rules of evidence and procedures. And of course there are the Bundys who say they are protecting the Constitution by violating its rules, which require that only Congress can expressly grant rights on federal property.
Let’s call the Bundy actions what it was, whether they face a new trial or not. It was land grab at the expense of wildlife, the federal government, taxpayers and fellow ranches who pay their fees.
“Cows can do serious damage to wildlife and land, and it should not be acceptable for anyone to ignore environmental lands and allow their cattle to destroy public lands for person gain,’’ said Best. “This is what the Bundys did.“