Federal prosecutors moved Wednesday to dismiss the charges against four low-level figures in the 2014 Nevada standoff, including two Bundy brothers, but it wasn’t all good news for the Bundy ranching family.
The prosecutors also asked U.S. District Court Chief Judge Gloria Navarro to reconsider her Jan. 8 decision to throw out the case against Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and Ryan Payne over “flagrant prosecutorial misconduct,” including withholding evidence.
The decision to drop the charges came as something of a surprise, given the prosecution’s aggressive pursuit of the case, while the motion to reconsider could be viewed as a longshot after Judge Navarro’s scathing rebuke of prosecutors for willfully withholding evidence.
U.S. Attorney for Nevada Dayle Elieson, appointed Jan. 3 by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, described the dismissal as “unwarranted and unjust.”
“Dismissing this entire case with prejudice, based on the government’s non-disclosure of mostly duplicative evidence of law enforcement’s pre-impoundment surveillance and preparation, would encourage the defendants, their supporters, and the public to disrespect the law and the lawful orders of the courts,” she said in the 29-page motion.
Larry Klayman, an attorney for Cliven Bundy, shrugged off the prosecution’s effort to reverse the dismissal as a “cover your derriere” move, adding that it was “disappointing that Attorney General Jeff Sessions allowed that to occur.”
“Obviously what the prosecutors did was inconsistent, moving to dismiss for the four other defendants, which was good, but then moving for reconsideration,” said Mr. Klayman. “Basically, they’re just trying to save face, save their tattered reputations.”
In a separate filing, prosecutors sought to drop their case against the final tier of defendants, the remaining four of 19 men charged in the confrontation between the Bureau of Land Management and Bundy supporters at the ranch near Bunkerville, Nevada.
The trial had been scheduled to begin Feb. 26 in federal court in Las Vegas.
“In light of the Court’s dismissal Order and the pendency of the government’s Motion for Reconsideration, the government believes that, under these circumstances and in the interests of justice, it is appropriate to move to dismiss the Superseding Indictment against the third group of defendants named herein with prejudice,” said the motion.
The defendants—David Bundy, Melvin Bundy, Joseph O’Shaughnessy and Jason Woods—had been charged with multiple felony counts, including conspiracy, assault, obstruction of justice, and firearms violations, and faced the possibility of decades in prison.
The Bundy family and supporters cheered the dismissal. “Cliven Bundy says ‘IT’S ABOUT TIME!’” said a post on the Bundy Ranch page on Facebook.
Several defendants accepted plea deals and the rest were divided into three tiers for trial, but prosecutors struggled from the outset to make their case, winding up with a mistrial followed by a retrial, numerous not-guilty verdicts on various charges, and two outright acquittals.
Judge Navarro delivered the coup de grace last month by throwing out the charges against the second tier of defendants, identified as the standoff’s leaders, ruling that it would be “impossible” for them to receive a fair trial as a result of “outrageous government conduct.”
More than 100 Bundy supporters, many of them armed, descended on the ranch in April 2014 after BLM agents attempted to impound 400 head of cattle over Cliven Bundy’s refusal to pay grazing fees to the federal government in a protest against public-lands policy.
Two weeks ago, Cliven Bundy filed a lawsuit asking the court to declare that federal lands within Nevada’s borders belong to the state.