Judge Gloria Navarro, who has presided over the multiple Bundy trials emanating from the Nevada “cattle grazing fees” standoff in April 2014, has declared a mistrial. Yet family patriarch Cliven Bundy continues to stand firm in displaying the kind of rarely seen and highly honorable “ironclad principles” he has shown since the beginning of his ordeal with the federal government.
By Mark Anderson
Around 50 supporters of the Bundy family on the morning of Tuesday, Dec. 20 left the U.S. District Courthouse in Las Vegas in a state of elation. Judge Gloria Navarro ruled to declare a mistrial in the current proceedings involving longtime Bunkerville, Nev. rancher Cliven Bundy, his sons, Ryan and Ammon, and Ryan Payne.
These four defendants have become emblematic of the plight of ranchers resisting onerous federal land controls. They were joined in the spring of 2014 by hundreds of protesters, who arrived from across the nation and gathered near Bundy’s ranch in Clark County, in southern Nevada, to exercise their First and Second Amendment rights.
These stalwart souls protested the actions of Bureau of Land Management agents, as well as armed FBI agents and contractors, who had arrived to impound Bundy’s cattle over allegations of unpaid grazing fees on public lands.
The impoundment attempt, on April 12, 2014, was unsuccessful.
But while the government turned tail and retreated that day, a 16-count federal indictment was eventually handed down. Cliven, Ammon, and the two Ryans were among nearly 20 individuals initially indicted in this now-legendary federal case, which hasn’t gone well for prosecutors ever since the first of several planned trials started in February 2017.
The government, despite spending millions of taxpayer dollars, has seen its case steadily deflate to the point where, as of now, the only remaining piece is for the prosecution and the defense to deliver briefs, by 5 p.m. Dec. 29, to Judge Navarro. Those briefs will consist of arguments to enable the judge to decide whether or not to fully dismiss the case.
The mistrial happened just before 9:30 a.m. Pacific Time on Dec. 20, as, “Navarro told the jury to ‘Go home. . . . It’s over,’ ” recounted Roger Roots, a legal expert and author who has observed firsthand virtually every Bundy trial proceeding.
After Judge Navarro reviews the briefs, an open hearing will be convened at 9 a.m. on Jan. 8. That day, if she rules for dismissal “without prejudice,” the indictment remains in force and federal prosecutors technically could reset the trial of Cliven and the three others, reportedly for Feb. 26. But if she rules for dismissal “with prejudice,” then the indictment is dissolved.
A dissolved indictment would mean the government would have to go to the trouble and expense of convening a new grand jury in order to seek a new indictment—which would constitute “double jeopardy” and, therefore, a constitutional violation. Roots does not believe the government would even try to get a new indictment if it were to face such a high legal hurdle.
Judge Navarro’s findings for a mistrial were founded on the fact that the prosecution had committed at least five Brady v Maryland violations, including: failing to disclose to the defense the existence of surveillance cameras, including those trained at the Bundy homestead; not disclosing the fact that concealed snipers were stationed around the area at the time of the 2014 standoff; not disclosing the existence of maps of the snipers’ positions; and, among other things, not disclosing threat-assessment reports, which include government admissions that Cliven and company are not dangerous people.
In a dramatic twist, family patriarch Cliven Bundy, as a matter of principle, had stayed in prison despite a court ruling at a recent detention release hearing to allow him to go home under house arrest. He has been jailed since early 2016 while suffering from health problems. Bundy based his decision on the fact that a few remaining defendants, which had included his sons Mel and Dave until they, too, were granted house arrest, still in jail awaiting a final trial that’s been scheduled to take place sometime in 2018.
Ryan Bundy stated: “My father’s position on not coming out is that he’s an innocent man. He’s not guilty of any crime. And the standard in America is that we are innocent until proven guilty. It’s the government’s responsibility and it’s their duty and their obligation to provide that proof. We shouldn’t have been in jail, not one day.”
Ryan and Ammon Bundy, as well as Ryan Payne, all were recently released under house-arrest rulings, after an equally grueling amount of time behind bars.
During a recent on-the-air interview, Cliven’s daughter-in-law Briana, who is Mel’s wife, told “Free Speech Zone” host Jim Lambley of KSDZ-FM “The Twister” out of Nebraska that in the almost two years that Cliven Bundy has been behind bars, several more grandchildren were born, yet he still chose to remain in jail to stand for the others still imprisoned.
On a Dec. 20 appearance on the same radio show, Briana added,“Over 3,300 hundred pages of evidence that helped the defense have been withheld and have been turned over to the defense in the last two weeks . . . . It was absolutely intentional and she [Judge Navarro] said she believes it was intentional because of what they withheld.”
Roots, who’s cautiously optimistic, said that given the mistrial ruling, the final few defendants behind bars have a dramatically improved chance of never going to trial.
“Cliven won’t go home until this case is all the way over,” he remarked, moved by the patriarch’s ironclad principles.
Mark Anderson is a longtime newsman now working as the roving editor for AFP. Email him at [email protected].