From the Trenches World Report.com
PHOENIX — A federal judge in Las Vegas ordered prosecutors in the Bundy Ranch standoff trials to turn over an investigative report accusing a key government witness of wrongdoing.
Judge Gloria Navarro denied motions to dismiss charges against 17 defendants who claimed the government withheld evidence by concealing misconduct allegations against the federal agent in charge of operations during the 2014 standoff.
Navarro said prosecutors had a duty to release a full copy of a report by the Department of Interior’s Office of the Inspector General naming the agent, calling it “material evidence” that could be used to impeach the government’s witness.
“The OIG Report details several violations of federal ethics regulations, misuse of government property, misuse of a government position, and ‘a lack of candor when interviewed,’ ” Navarro wrote in a ruling Wednesday. “At a minimum, (defendants) may use this alleged misconduct on cross-examination to impeach (the agent).”
Opening statements began Thursday in the first of three trials against ranchers and militia members accused of conspiracy when they took up arms in 2014 to stop Bureau of Land Management officials from seizing cattle owned by Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.
The inspector general’s report made public Jan. 30 did not name the agent. But attorneys for the defendants said it contained enough details to positively identify him as Dan Love, the BLM special agent in charge of Utah and Nevada between 2012 and 2015.
Lawyers in court Thursday briefly discussed whether Love would be called to testify. Although prosecutors suggested they might not use him as a witness, they mentioned Love several times and showed jurors a slide with his picture from the standoff.
“This is one of those determining factors … in a case. This is a significant event,” Las Vegas lawyer Bret Whipple said Thursday afternoon. “We should have had this information years ago.”
Whipple represents Cliven Bundy, who is scheduled to go on trial with the second group of defendants 30 days after the first trial ends.
He said the report could be used to show Love’s pattern and practices of misbehavior. He said federal investigators for years have been aware of Love’s wrongdoing and chose to hide it even as trial commenced.
Whipple said his client and other defendants maintain Love escalated tensions at the ranch and that his aggressive behavior turned a peaceful demonstration into an armed standoff.
“It gives value to our concern that there was government overreach,” he said.
Report details misconduct at Burning Man
The inspector general’s report cites ethical violations that occurred in 2015 at the annual Burning Man event in Northern Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
Federal investigators said the agent wrongly used his influence to obtain benefits for himself and his family members at Burning Man, abused federal law-enforcement resources and intimidated other BLM staff to keep quiet about his conduct. They also accused the agent of manipulating BLM hiring practices to help a friend get hired.
An analysis by the Reno Gazette-Journal and The Arizona Republic found many details in the report coincide with Love’s career, including the agent’s former title, his base of operation, his past assignments and his on-site supervisor. In addition, the report cited a June 2015 Gazette-Journal story about complaints against Love over his conduct before Burning Man began.
Love has not responded to repeated phone messages left at his Utah office and on his cellphone.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and Bureau of Land Management officials in Washington, D.C., have declined to comment.
Standoff a flashpoint in public-lands battle
The Bundy trials represent one of the West’s most high-profile land-use cases, which erupted in 2014 when armed ranchers and militia members mounted a six-day standoff against BLM officials during the “Battle of Bunkerville.”
For two decades, the BLM repeatedly ordered Bundy to remove his cattle from federal lands near his ranch about 80 miles north of Las Vegas on Interstate 15. The BLM obtained a court order in 2014 to seize Bundy’s cattle as payment for more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees.
In April, the BLM, led by Love, implemented a roundup of 1,000 head of Bundy’s cattle ranging on public land.
Bundy issued a social-media battle cry. Hundreds of supporters, including members of several militia groups, streamed to the ranch from several Western states, including Nevada, Arizona, Idaho and Oklahoma.
Pictures of prone figures on overpasses sighting long rifles at BLM agents in a dusty wash below galvanized the public and brought international awareness to the feud over public lands.
Local law enforcement officials, including the Clark County Sheriff, negotiated a settlement and the BLM agreed to abandon the roundup. No shots were fired and no arrests were made.
The standoff was hailed as a victory by militia members. Cliven Bundy’s sons, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, cited their success at Bundy Ranch in their run-up to the siege of an Oregon wildlife refuge in 2016, also in protest of BLM policies. An Oregon federal jury acquitted Ammon, Ryan and five others in October.
As 1st trial opens, judge rebukes prosecutors
Six defendants, from Arizona, Idaho and Oklahoma, are the first to be tried. Federal prosecutors designated them as the “least culpable,” but all 17 defendants face identical charges and could spend the rest of their lives in prison if convicted.
The 17 defendants are charged with conspiracy, assault on a federal officer, using a firearm in a crime of violence, obstruction of justice, interference of commerce by extortion and aiding and abetting a crime. Two others who were charged pleaded guilty last year.
Navarro said dismissing the cases, a drastic step used only in extreme cases of misconduct, was not warranted.
“Given the only very recent release of the OIG Report, the government’s failure to disclose it falls well short of outrageous,” she wrote.
But Navarro appeared to rebuke federal prosecutors for their failure to disclose information.
“To the extent defendants seek disclosure of the personnel records of other federal agents,” Navarro wrote, “the court reminds the government that it has a continuing duty (to) inspect for material information the personnel records of federal law enforcement officers who will testify at trial.”
Follow Robert Anglen on Twitter: @robertanglen
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