LAS VEGAS — In a surprising reversal, U.S. District Judge Gloria M. Navarro late Monday agreed to place Ryan Bundy on GPS monitoring and release him from jail to a halfway house on the eve of the Bunkerville trial.
The decision came after a full-day hearing in closed court as defense lawyers raised repeated questions about alleged government misrepresentations of evidence.
Among them: Prosecutors claimed Ryan Bundy had been stunned with a Taser during an arrest in Utah about 10 years ago, but a video played in court apparently showed that didn’t happen.
Prosecutors also cited a sheriff’s report that Ryan Bundy disrupted a Utah cattle auction site and threatened to stop the government’s seizure of his father’s cattle in Nevada “by force” in early April 2014. But Bundy was denied an opportunity during a previous hearing to call the sheriff to rebut the prosecution’s allegations.
By the end of the day, the judge gave Ryan Bundy, who is representing himself in court, the green-light to be transferred to a local halfway house Monday night. She never explained in open court the reason she changed her mind from last week.
At first, a pretrial services officer suggested Bundy be driven back to the Southern Nevada Detention Center in Pahrump to retrieve some of his property and paperwork.
But Bundy said he had what he needed for trial with him and could go directly to the halfway house. His standby lawyer, Maysoun Fletcher, offered to drive him there, an arrangement the judge accepted.
The judge, though, ruled that his younger brother Ammon Bundy must remain in custody, along with co-defendants Cliven Bundy, his father, and Ryan Payne.
Cliven Bundy, his two sons and Payne face federal conspiracy, assault and extortion charges, accused of amassing armed supporters to thwart federal rangers and contractors from carrying out court orders to round up Bundy cattle illegally grazing on public land near Bunkerville. Opening statements are set to begin at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in what’s expected to be a four-month trial.
Much of the pretrial hearings Monday and last week focused on federal law enforcement surveillance of the Bundy ranch preceding a retreat by federal agents and rangers on April 12, 2014. They were forced to abandon their cattle impound operation because they were outnumbered by armed Bundy supporters and militia members, prosecutors contend.
In a hearing earlier this month, a National Park Service ranger revealed for the first time to the defense under questioning from Ryan Bundy that the FBI had at least one surveillance camera on a hill overlooking the Bundy home, providing live feed to the impound command center.
Then defense lawyers learned armed federal officers conducted surveillance outside the home before April 12 despite an indictment that accused the defendants of using deceit to tell supporters that the Bundy residence was surrounded by snipers.
The judge last week ordered prosecutors to turn over additional information to the defense on any armed federal officers on surveillance outside the Bundy home in March or April 2014. The information was to be turned over by noon Saturday. That led to a sealed motion filed Sunday night by Ammon Bundy’s lawyer and a lengthy court session Monday behind closed doors with lawyers from both sides and the judge.
When the court hearing reopened to the public late Monday afternoon, Nevada Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre argued that the material disclosed and discussed in closed court shouldn’t be admissible at trial unless the defendants observed it.
“Our position is none of that is relevant to this trial,” Myhre said. “We don’t want this to turn into a police conduct case … what the FBI, BLM did.” Prosecutors had the same concerns with the first two trials stemming from the Bunkerville standoff, he told the judge.
But J. Morgan Philpot, Ammon Bundy’s lawyer, argued the material is relevant, and the defendants will testify that they did see it. The information is “important because they denied its existence,” said Philpot, referring to the prosecution team.
The defendants have been in custody for almost two years since their arrests in Oregon. Authorities arrested Cliven Bundy on Feb. 10, 2016, as he got off a plane in Portland to visit his sons. Two weeks earlier, Ammon and Ryan Bundy and Payne had been arrested in the 2016 armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon.
Ammon Bundy took the stand for about 40 minutes last Thursday, pledging to abide by any conditions set for his release. His attorney argued that Ammon Bundy has one prior misdemeanor violation, hasn’t been violent and didn’t carry a gun during the Bunkerville standoff. He also pointed out that Ammon Bundy was acquitted of all charges in Oregon.
Prosecutor Daniel Schiess sought to distinguish the Oregon and Nevada cases.
“The Oregon case was principally a trespass case,” Schiess said, though noting guns were involved in the 41-day occupation of the wildlife refuge. “This is a case with threat, violence and intimidation.”
Schiess further noted that Ammon Bundy had 11 violations while in custody, of which nine were deemed of “major severity.” They included a March 15 possession of contraband, described as a thumb drive of discovery information that he took back to his jail pod from the jail library. It was a violation of the jail rules and he received 15 days in solitary confinement.
Other violations included hindering a jail employee’s work by placing a T-shirt over his eyes to sleep, failing to turn around when ordered in a jail elevator to avoid seeing a keypad code and not submitting to strip searches when ordered.
The judge agreed that Ammon Bundy remained a danger to the community and a risk of flight.
By Monday night, Ryan Bundy, wearing a black suit, emerged from the federal courthouse to his wife and a group of supporters who embraced him and took photos with him. His eight children were driven from their home in Mesquite to reunite with their father, before he was driven to the halfway house.
— Maxine Bernstein