SPOKANE VALLEY An Eastern Washington lawmaker instrumental in uncovering whistleblower documents in the “Battle of Bunkerville” standoff in Nevada is hopeful the effort will bring improved land management practices to the Pacific Northwest, and the entire West.
“It was quite a week last week,” state Rep. Matt Shea said Tuesday of a mistrial being declared and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ pending involvement in the case. “It was fairly amazing.”
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon E. Bundy and Ryan C. Bundy, and Montana Ryan W. Pain were being tried for alleged crimes stemming from the standoff in April 2014. The two younger Bundys and Pain were also involved in the 41-day standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., that started in January 2016.
U.S. District Court Judge Gloria M. Navarro declared a mistrial in the Nevada case Wednesday after determining federal prosecuting attorneys and agencies willfully refused to turn over evidence to the defense. That evidence includes federal videos of the Bundy family home prior to and during the standoff, a so-called “kill list” with red “X” across the faces of some protesters and proof the FBI was involved before the standoff.
Shea called the federal agencies’ so-called kill book “one of the most alarming things I’ve seen” as an elected official.
Most of the defendants in the Malheur case were previously acquitted of major charges.
Navarro set a Jan. 8 hearing to consider a defense motion to dismiss the entire Bunkerville case against the four current defendants. She also scheduled a Feb. 26 re-trial date.
In the meantime, Sessions said his office will be reviewing the conduct of the federal agencies involved, as well as the conduct of U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre, the lead prosecuting attorney in the trial and previous Bunkerville trials that ended mostly with dismissal of charges.
“I’m very happy to see Attorney General Sessions get involved,” Shea said.
The mistrial issue came to a head last week after Eastern Washington lawmaker Shea, a Spokane Valley Repubican, obtained and released whistleblower documents outlining the misconduct of federal agencies and providing evidence that backed up Bundy’s claims that “snipers” were monitoring his family prior to the standoff and his plea for help on social media in April 2014.
In his plea, Bundy said his ranch was surrounded by U.S. Bureau of Land Management agents and contract cowboys hired to round up his cattle.
The agency alleges Bundy has refused to pay grazing fees to the federal agency for several decades. To pay off the bill, the agency moved to confiscate Bundy’s cattle.
In response, hundreds of supporters from across The West flocked to Bundy’s ranch near Bunkerville, Nev. Some came armed. Rather than risk a gunfight, federal agents withdrew after killing several of the cattle.
Shea said the whistleblower documents forced the judge’s hand, and the mistrial.
Prior to the unveiling of documents written by Special Agency Larry C. Wooten and supported in documents found in at least one other officials’ files,
federal agencies involved in the action denied they were monitoring the Bundy family and denied the presence of any snipers.
“Nobody is above the law,” he said of the actions of the Bureau of Land Management, federal prosecuting attorneys and others. “A sniper rifle is not due process.”
Shea, who visited both Bunkerville and Malheur during the standoffs, said he is hopeful the entire case will be dismissed Jan. 8. He’s also hopeful dismissal means real changes in federal management of public land in the West.
“BLM is a poor manager of resources, such as grazing,” he said. “Why is the BLM even in existence?”
Shea said the BLM has lost sight of its mission to manage public lands for varied uses including grazing, energy development, timber harvesting and recreation while preserving natural, cultural and historic resources.
“Why were they (BLM snipers) pointed at Americans who were protesting legally?” he said, calling the aggressive actions of the agency systemic.
Shea said the agency manages about 428,000 acres in Washington state and hopes the unraveling of the cases in both Nevada and Oregon will force the agency’s restructuring or elimination.
He said he’s hopeful Secretary Ryan Zinke of the Department of the Interior will take quick action in the way public lands are managed in the West, including Washington state.
The Bureau of Land Management is one of several agencies within the Department of the Interior.
“Secretary Zinke appears headed the right way,” Shea said.