A Nevada Highway Patrol sergeant who responded to the 2014 protests in Bunkerville testified Monday that he was “jealous” of one of Cliven Bundy’s supporters because the man carried a radio that broadcast police scanner activity better than a state-issued device.
“Our radios weren’t that clear. I was kind of jealous because his was better than ours,” Sgt. Shannon Selena told jurors Monday.
He was referring to Gregory Burleson, one of six men in the first group of a three-part federal trial against Bundy and 16 others accused of conspiring to block federal agents from rounding up the rancher’s cows. The jury seated for the first trial has heard hours of testimony about law enforcement’s assessment of the general threat level during the April 2014 standoff, but Monday marked the first time a government witness singled out a defendant for his role in the protests.
Selena said he came into contact with Burleson when he responded to the growing crowd of protesters on the Interstate 15 overpass bridge that overlooked a sandy ditch where federal authorities for days had been impounding cattle from Bureau of Land Management land.
Police scanner activity broadcasts conversations between dispatch and responding officers. The conversations are public record, but Selena said the protester’s monitoring of Metropolitan Police Department air traffic concerned him.
“If there are things that we needed to discuss … we didn’t necessarily want published for everyone to hear,” Selena said. “To just have a citizen with it or a militia member … that’s concerning.”
Burleson’s health has declined rapidly since 2014. He now is blind and requires the use of a wheelchair. He suffers from seizures, which halted the trial for a few hours last week when he fell ill in the middle of testimony. He sat in the back of the courtroom while Selena was on the stand Monday, hidden behind his co-defendants and their lawyers at the two defense tables in front of him.
Selena is one of several local law enforcement officers prosecutors have called in the past week to testify. The agencies’ responses have been an undertone of the trial, especially after Burleson’s attorney implied in opening statements that the Bureau of Land Management agents who handled the impoundment operation were not “real” law enforcement officers.
“The funny thing is the Metro police officers, who are real law enforcement officers who carry guns and deal with hard-core criminals — murderers, rapists … they weren’t scared to death,” Terrence Jackson said in his opening statement to jurors. “Highway Patrol and Metro didn’t think these guys were a super danger, like they were about to go crazy and start pulling the trigger.”
Prosecutors, in presenting their case against the six defendants, have challenged that narrative by calling members of local law enforcement to testify that they perceived a high degree of danger.
Last week, a Metro officer told jurors that he noticed every officer in his skirmish line crying the day of the standoff. Another, when asked about the threat level, gave the protests the highest rating on a 1 to 10 scale.
Selena followed suit Monday and told jurors he texted his then-wife to tell her he loved her, because he was afraid he would not survive the day’s events. He said he still has flashbacks about the day.
Selena highlighted a number of protesters who were armed and wearing military fatigues to emphasize the perceived threat. As he testified, prosecutors played dashboard camera footage from his police cruiser, which was parked on the side of the highway overpass.
Jackson, in animated cross-examination, suggested that Selena exaggerated the threat level. He pointed out that the sergeant did not try to apprehend Burleson the day of the standoff.
“If you were in great fear … you’re not going to turn your back on him like this and just let him have a weapon that’s loaded so they can shoot you?” Jackson asked.
He turned his back on the witness while asking the question to demonstrate his point.
“I was about as apprehensive as I could be that day, sir,” Selena said after Jackson posed several similar questions.
Other defense attorneys made the same argument in a variety of ways. Defense attorney Todd Leventhal highlighted a portion of the dashcam video that recorded Selena’s voice as he tossed a Gatorade bottle into the front passenger seat of his cruiser.
“Everything is peaceful,” the sergeant said, apparently speaking over his radio as protesters started to gather. “All good.”
Contact Jenny Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710. Follow @jennydwilson on Twitter.