After reviewing the actions of federal law enforcement officers during the 2014 armed standoff with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s lead investigator is crying foul.
BLM investigator and lead case agent Larry Wooten has authored a scathing memo which accuses agents of far-reaching misconduct, recklessness and unrestrained antipathy toward the Bundy family.
Dated Nov. 27, the 18-page document was obtained Thursday by The Oregonian/OregonLive and was shared with defense lawyers for Bundy, his two sons and co-defendant Ryan Payne as they were in the midst of their conspiracy trial, but it’s not part of the public court record, according to the report. The trial began Nov. 14 in Las Vegas.
The memo prompted Cliven Bundy’s lawyer to file a motion early Monday to dismiss the case. There’s already an issue regarding the government’s failure to promptly share evidence with the defense.
In response, U.S. District Judge Gloria M. Navarro sent the jury home for more than a week as she attempts to sort out the claims and prosecutors scramble to save their case.
The standoff occurred on April 12, 2014, when the feds rounded up cattle belonging to Bundy and his family in a dispute over grazing fees on federal land.
The Bundy family had an arrangement to use the land for their cattle for years, but problems had escalated when the Bureau of Land Management started applying grazing restrictions. It claimed Bundy owed more than $1 million in penalties and grazing fines and came to the location to confiscate the cattle.
Hundreds of Americans from across the nation traveled to the ranch to help defend Bundy and prevent the BLM from taking his cattle.
After the tense confrontation outside the Bundy’s ranch near Bunkerville, Nevada, heavily armed federal agents and armed protesters faced each other, with many unarmed protesters standing in the middle demanding that the BLM free Bundy’s cattle.
The feds finally relented, but there were some “skirmishes” involving federal officials and some Bundy family members. Cliven Bundy’s 57-year-old sister, Margaret Huston, was “body slammed,” and his son, Ammon Bundy was shocked with a taser. Another son, Dave Bundy, was arrested.
Wooten was removed from the investigation last February after he complained to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nevada.
Last month, he sent a whistleblower email to the U.S. Department of Justice, alleging a “widespread pattern of bad judgment, lack of discipline, incredible bias, unprofessionalism and misconduct, as well as likely policy, ethical and legal violations among senior and supervisory staff” at the Bureau of Land Management’s Office of Law Enforcement and Security.
According to the newspaper, Wooten accused supervisory agents with the bureau of having “repeatedly mocked the defendants in an ‘amateurish carnival atmosphere” that resembled something out of middle school, displayed ‘clear prejudice’ against the Bundys, their supporters and Mormons, and prominently displayed degrading altered booking photos of Cliven Bundy and other defendants in a federal office and in an office presentation.”
The memo went on to describe the “heavy handedness” of government officers as they prepared to impound Cliven Bundy’s cattle. He said some officers “bragged about roughing up Dave Bundy, grinding his face into the ground and Dave Bundy having little bits of gravel stuck in his face.”
Wooten also accused supervisory agents of neglecting to turn over required discovery evidence to the prosecution team that could help the defense or be used to question the credibility of a witness, as required by law.
Judge Navarro gave both sides deadlines to file responses and is expected to reconvene court Wednesday with the lawyers from both sides and defendants at 8 a.m.
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