LAS VEGAS — A federal judge declared a mistrial Wednesday in the case involving Cliven Bundy and his two sons after she found prosecutors “willfully” failed to turn over evidence related to an armed standoff three years ago.
U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro pointed to several Brady violations — suppression of evidence that could be favorable to a defendant — and then dismissed the jury.
“It was not possible to go forward with the case,” Navarro told the jurors.
It marks yet another setback for federal prosecutors, who have struggled to obtain convictions against the Bundy family and their supporters and the cases have become a rallying point for those who believe the federal government has overstepped its authority by controlling public lands operated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The federal government brought the case forward as it alleged Bundy and his two sons escalated tensions after refusing court orders to remove cattle from public lands — ultimately leading to an armed standoff with federal law enforcement officials in April 2014 outside of Bunkerville, Nevada.
That standoff ended after federal authorities backed down, claiming they feared for their lives as about 400 Bundy supporters — many with guns — held their ground. The high-profile incident forced the closure of a segment of Interstate 15 near Mesquite as the Bundy supporters tried to stop federal officials from removing the cattle.
But the trial has been slow-going.
Jurors were seated in early November and opening arguments weren’t heard until Nov. 14. Defense lawyers claimed evidence had been withheld by the prosecution and that set in motion a series of delays and sealed hearings.
There were also unexpected surprises for the government, as Navarro allowed Ammon Bundy and Ryan Bundy — along with Ryan Payne — to be granted pre-trial release so they could better prepare their case and be at home with their families. Cliven Bundy has remained jailed at a prison in Pahrump.
After Navarro declared a mistrial, Ryan Bundy asked for his release with a promise to appear in court if a new trial is set, but Navarro told him he would have to make the request through the pre-trial office.
Navarro has set Feb. 26 as a new trial date.
Last week, The Oregonian obtained a November 27 memo from lead investigator who accused federal agents of misconduct during the 2014 standoff. The 18-page document also suggested the agents held prejudicial feelings against the Bundys for being Mormon.
With defense lawyers already claiming the prosecution had failed to disclose evidence, it became a part of about a week-long series of sealed court hearings as the Bundys angled for a mistrial or outright dismissal of the charges.
The stakes have been high for the federal government, which has struggled to obtain convictions in cases surrounding the Bundy family and their cohorts.
This case was expected to go into the early part of 2018 as prosecutors attempted to prove the four defendants threatened a federal officer, carried and used a firearm and engaging in conspiracy — all felony charges that would’ve had them spend decades in prison.
The 71-year-old Bundy is revered among those who believe the federal government and supporters gathered outside the courthouse most mornings when court was in session. “Today is a great day,” one supporter yelled outside the federal courthouse.
Federal prosecutors had looked for this case to stop a steady losing streak in court against the Bundy family. Twice this year, Las Vegas juries acquitted or deadlocked on multiple felony charges against Bundy supporters.
Ammon Bundy, 42, and Ryan Bundy, 44, were acquitted on similar federal felony charges related to their roles in a 41-day standoff at an Oregon wildlife preserve in 2016.
-David Montero, ©2017 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.