LAS VEGAS — A judge declined Thursday to release Nevada cattleman Cliven Bundy days before trial, concerned he still doesn’t recognize federal authority and has a large incentive to flee with at least 80 years in prison hanging over his head if convicted of four of his 16 charges.
U.S. District Judge Gloria M. Navarro also rejected release requests by Ryan Bundy and Ryan Payne and said she would make a decision later on Ammon Bundy.
Bret O. Whipple, the attorney representing the elder Bundy on charges in the 2014 standoff near Bunkerville, urged consideration for the patriarch’s age, his failing health and the reduced weight of evidence against him after unsuccessful conspiracy prosecutions against others in the case.
“He refers to himself as an old cow,” Whipple said, noting that the 71-year-old Bundy arrived in custody with 20 teeth and now has 10 to 15 teeth left because infections are treated by pulling teeth in jail and not with dental care.
“It’s been hard on him and his health has really deteriorated,” Whipple said.
The senior 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.
They 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.
Whipple proposed that the court release Cliven Bundy to a house in Las Vegas where he would be under the watch of a retired Las Vegas Metro police officer. He named the couple who rent the home as Keith and Joann Gordon.
Prosecutors said that no circumstances have changed, and pretrial service officers continued to recommend the elder Bundy’s detention.
The judge quickly ruled that Cliven Bundy must remain in custody. She noted his lack of respect for federal rules and regulations and said the weight of evidence against him is still strong despite the earlier trials.
Cliven Bundy stands accused as the leader and beneficiary of an alleged federal conspiracy, Navarro noted.
As soon as Navarro made her ruling, Cliven Bundy’s oldest daughter, Sharee Cox, stood up in the third row of the public gallery, pointed to the judge and yelled, “Gloria Navarro, you are an evil, cold-hearted woman.”
“I don’t care, touch me if you want,” she said to court security and deputy U.S. marshals walking toward her. “You are a liar. I love you, Dad.”
She kept screaming as she was escorted out, threatening to sue the security if they touched her.
The judge calmly continued to the next defendant, Ammon Bundy, 42, who took the stand for about 40 minutes, pledging to abide by conditions set for his release. His attorney argued that Bundy has one prior misdemeanor violation, hasn’t been violent and didn’t carry a gun during the Bunkerville standoff.
Prosecutor Daniel Schiess countered that Ammon Bundy’s motion for release was filled with “half truths,” with “plucked statements completely out of context.” Schiess noted that Ammon Bundy had 11 violations while in custody pending trial, though he didn’t say what they were.
“His credibility is not worth your relying on,” Schiess told the judge.
Schiess then questioned Ammon Bundy, asking him what he’d do if the U.S. Bureau of Land Management went to the public lands near Bunkerville to round up Bundy cattle. Ammon Bundy replied, “I would do as I did before, which is peacefully assemble.”
The judge then asked if he would abide by home confinement and a curfew if ordered.
“I give you my word I’ll stay home,” he replied.
Schiess pressed further, and asked Ammon Bundy if he came to the courthouse and security told him to do something that he disagreed with, would he follow security’s direction.
“Yes,” Ammon Bundy replied.
At several points, Ammon Bundy’s lawyer Daniel Hill objected to some of Schiess’ questions, but Ammon Bundy, his forearms leaning on the witness stand with his hands clasped in front of him and a pocket Constitution in his front shirt pocket, told his lawyer, “I welcome any questions he wants to ask.”
He also turned to the judge, pledging,”I give you my word to follow these orders and I take that seriously so my answer is unequivocally yes.”
The judge didn’t rule immediately on his request, saying she would allow the prosecution team to make more arguments Monday.
But she turned down Ryan Bundy’s impassioned plea.
Ryan Bundy asked his wife and eight children — many of them youngsters reading Dr. Seuss books or writing in a notebook or clutching a teddy bear during the full-day hearing – to stand. He said he wants to provide for them.
“I want to be a good father,” he said. “This is punishment to them that they don’t deserve, even if I deserve it.”
He pledged, like his brother did, to abide by any conditions the court would set. His wife sold their home in Cedar City, Utah, and now has a home in Mesquite, Nevada, he said, or he could live with a family friend in Las Vegas.
“I am excited to go to trial…I really am,” he said. “Where else would I go? How would it benefit me to try to dodge out of this?”
He said his travel to court from the Nevada Southern Detention Center in Pahrump ends up being a 10-hour round-trip with all the transfer protocol, making it onerous for him to prepare for trial.
The prosecutor said Ryan Bundy has violated rules and orders in custody — 12 between March and August. He recently refused to turn around in an elevator as instructed so he wouldn’t see the password key code, for example, and cursed at a deputy marshal who was ordering him to leave the courtroom, Schiess said.
Ryan Bundy created the transit problem himself, Schiess said, by not following orders, strip searches, at the more local Henderson jail, which is closer to the federal courthouse.
Ryan Bundy countered that his actions in jail result because he’s being treated like a criminal, a slave.
“Liberty is a precious thing. Being told what to do and pushed around like I’m a dog is egregious,” he said. “All we are wanting is a little liberty. We’re not violent men…but we get tired of this kind of treatment.”
Schiess also cited Ryan Bundy’s statement to a federal agent in March 2014, pledging to “do whatever it takes” to prevent rangers from taking the family’s cattle and that he would “have several 100 with me to help.” He also said Ryan Bundy created a ruckus at the Utah livestock auction site during an April 2014 visit. The local sheriff there was so concerned because Ryan Bundy promised to “stop the impound by force.” The sheriff contacted Utah’s governor, urging the governor to prevent cattle from being taken to Utah out of concern for the potential for a violent confrontation, Schiess said.
The judge said the evidence shows Ryan Bundy remains a danger to the community, pointing to his pattern of defiance in and out of custody. “Those are concerning to the court. I can’t disregard them.”
She indicated she had considered placing him in a halfway house, but the evidence before her won’t allow that.
“I want to be able to provide this opportunity but the facts just don’t permit it,” Navarro said.
Navarro also denied release for Payne, 34, saying he, too, remained a danger to the community. She cited his guilty plea in the Malheur refuge occupation and his threatening statements as the co-founder of a network of militias, Operation Mutual Defense.
Defense attorney Ryan Norwood conceded that Payne makes provocative statements, such as telling a Montana newspaper reporter that it’s OK to kill an officer who is making an unlawful arrest, which a prosecutor highlighted.
“What somebody says and what somebody did is a different thing,'” Norwood said. He noted Payne’s prior Army service and honorable discharge. He recommended releasing Payne to live with a cousin in Las Vegas.
The judge disagreed. “It is not just political rhetoric,” Navarro said. “It is conduct.”
U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown of Oregon also alerted the court that she wanted to weigh in on Payne’s continued detention if he were to be released in Nevada. He awaits sentencing in Oregon on a federal conspiracy charge in the refuge occupation.
A jury acquitted Ammon and Ryan Bundy in the Oregon case last fall.
— Maxine Bernstein