A federal judge in Las Vegas on Monday dismissed the case against rancher Cliven Bundy, his two sons, and a fourth man who took part in the 2014 confrontation with the government.
U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro closed out the latest chapter in the so-called “Battle of Bunkerville” by dismissing the charges with prejudice against Cliven, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, as well as Ryan Payne.
Navorro, who declared a mistrial in the case last month, said federal prosecutors engaged in a “deliberate attempt to mislead and distort the truth” through neglecting to turn over evidence that could have helped the defendants in their defense.
“What says that the federal government is supposed to have an army that comes against ‘We the People’? When did that ever happen in America?” said Bundy, 71, soon after he was released. “It happened on Bundy Ranch. They stuck their guns down our throats — and that is definitely not what our Founding Fathers intended to happen in America.”
The trial has its roots going back to 1993 when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management sought to limit the senior Bundy’s access to public land near Bunkerville, Nevada for his cattle — citing the need to protect the endangered desert tortoise — to which he responded by refusing to renew his grazing permit. This sparked an ongoing dispute between the rancher and the federal government over access and grazing fees that came to a head in April 2014 when the agency moved to roundup and impound Bundy’s cattle on BLM land, triggering a response that saw protestors, some armed, come to Bundy’s aid from across the country.
In the end, the agents backed down but prosecutors later brought up no less than 19 defendants on a series of charges related to the incident. Some have pleaded guilty, others found guilty, and some exonerated or taken plea deals with what are expected to be light sentences. The trial for the remaining defendants in the case — Melvin D. Bundy, David H. Bundy, Joseph O’Shaughnessy, and Jason D. Woods — is tentatively set to begin Feb. 26.
The Nevada rancher, characterizing himself as a political prisoner who has been in prison for 700 days said, “We’re not done with this.”
Navarro’s ruling would block a future trial, but prosecutors could appeal the decision to the U.S. 9th Circuit. Interim U.S. Attorney Dayle Elieson, a Texas prosecutor appointed to head DOJ’s efforts in Nevada by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week, said only, “We respect the court’s ruling and will make a determination about the next appropriate steps.”