LAS VEGAS — Prosecutors in the Bundy trial must provide information by noon Saturday on all armed federal officers who did surveillance outside the Bundy ranch and any cameras capturing images of the Bundy home between March 1 and April 12, 2014, a judge ordered Wednesday.
The information must be turned over to the defense.
It could help Cliven Bundy, sons Ammon Bundy and Ryan Bundy and co-defendant Ryan Payne challenge the allegation that they used “deceit and deception” to encourage supporters to come to the ranch by saying the house was surrounded, federal snipers were outside the home and the family felt isolated.
Defense lawyers said they learned for the first time on Tuesday of two federal officers dressed in camouflage and armed with AR-15 rifles posted outside the Bundy residence at night.
That information was contained in a written report that they received from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in preparation for Wednesday’s hearing on disputed discovery evidence.
“Wouldn’t it be important for the defense to know FBI agents are overlooking the Bundy residence with an AR-15?” asked Brenda Weksler, one of Payne’s defense lawyers. “How do we not have this until yesterday?”
Nevada Acting U.S. Attorney Steven W. Myhre said it shouldn’t fall on the government to point out information that the defense may be interested in among the more than 23,000-pages of discovery turned over to defendants.
The Bundys and Payne are on trial on 16 charges each in the armed standoff with federal rangers near Bunkerville.
Myhre also argued that defense requests for more information are being made too late and characterized them as a “tactic for delay.” He said he still didn’t understand why the information is material to their defense.
“That information is in there. They need to find it,” he said.
Weksler countered that there were no prior reports shared or testimony in two past trials of co-defendants about federal officers with rifles posted outside the Bundy home.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Gloria M. Navarro delayed opening statements for the trial for a week and pressed prosecutors to return to court Wednesday to provide more details on one or more FBI surveillance cameras that could capture images of the Bundy ranch before or during the April 2014 standoff. The defense first learned of a surveillance camera from a National Park Service ranger who testified during a pretrial hearing last week.
The three Bundys and Payne face federal conspiracy, threats, assault and extortion charges, accused of amassing armed supporters to thwart federal rangers and contractors from rounding up Bundy cattle unlawfully grazing on public land near Bunkerville.
Myhre told the court that one surveillance camera was placed outside the ranch on April 5, 2014, and a day later moved to another spot near the stage that the Bundys and their supporters had set up a couple of miles down the road.
He said there was no evidence that the camera recorded images, nor any notes or written reports found from a federal officer jotting down observations from the images. The images were broadcast on a live feed on a television inside the federal command center.
“We do not have within the prosecution team any possession of any recordings from any surveillance camera near the Bundy residence,” Myhre told the court.
The surveillance camera was put up but knocked down and made inoperable the next day, he said. A U.S. Bureau of Land Management officer noticed Ryan Bundy riding a yellow ATV near the camera just before it stopped working, according to court testimony.
The camera was repaired, Myhre said, and moved to another location near the stage along state Route 170, where the senior Bundy and others made speeches.
Prosecutors spoke to the technician who handled the camera and a special agent who supervised its placement. Federal agents reviewed FBI logs and found no record of any surveillance log kept, Myhre said. If the camera recorded images, it would have been through a server in the FBI field office in Las Vegas, Myhre said.
“None of our investigation reveals any recording was made from that surveillance camera,” he said.
He called the defense requests “highly improper.”
“We believe it’s a tactic to delay. We’re ready to put on our case. At some point this has got to stop,” Myhre told the judge.
Defense lawyers and Ryan Bundy, who is representing himself, said they were reluctant to rely on Myhre’s word and asked why the FBI technician responsible for the camera couldn’t be called to testify, even if it were by phone.
“I’m not satisfied with the offer of proof,” said assistant federal public defender Ryan Norwood, representing Payne.
Cliven Bundy’s lawyer called one witness — Cliven Bundy’s nephew Arthur Scott Sessions — who said he noticed cameras in three different locations during an April 2014 visit to the family patriarch’s home.
A football-sized camera with black lens was sitting directly across the street from the ranch, he said. A second camera was on a hill overlooking the ranch and a third was near a gravel pit about 250 yards from the standoff stage. Sessions, however, said he didn’t know if more than one camera was up on any one day.
After a four-hour hearing, the judge found the defense had shown sufficient evidence for the prosecution to disclose more information on its use of a surveillance camera and the posting of any armed federal officers outside the Bundy home leading up to the standoff.
Navarro ordered the government to turn over the number and location of any additional surveillance cameras that would have captured images of the Bundy home, the dates they operated, any evidence of video recordings or written note-taking of observations from the camera live-feeds, the name of the person who was operating or positioning the camera or cameras and any reports on armed federal officers or FBI agents who were on surveillance outside the Bundy home between March 1, 2014 and April 12, 2014.
“We’ve already looked for evidence of other cameras,” an exasperated Myhre told the judge. “I’ll look again but doubtful we’ll find anything.”
On Thursday, the judge will re-evaluate the defendants’ detention at a 9:30 a.m. hearing. Opening statements in the trial, expected to last four months, are now set for next Tuesday.
— Maxine Bernstein