A scathing memo from the lead investigator who assessed how federal officers handled the 2014 armed standoff with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy accuses agents of far-reaching misconduct, recklessness and unrestrained antipathy toward the family.
The 18-page document, obtained Thursday by The Oregonian/OregonLive, is dated Nov. 27.
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Prosecutors shared it last week with defense lawyers for Bundy, his two sons and co-defendant Ryan Payne as they were in the midst of their conspiracy trial, but it’s not part of the public court record.
The memo prompted Cliven Bundy’s lawyer to file a motion early Monday to dismiss the case, already in disarray over concerns raised previously about the government’s failure to promptly share evidence with the defense.
The judge sent the jury home for more than a week as she tries to sort out the claims and prosecutors scramble to save their case.
The memo comes from Larry Wooten, who had been the lead case agent and investigator for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management after the tense confrontation outside the patriarch’s ranch near Bunkerville. Wooten also testified before a federal grand jury that returned indictments against the Bundys. He said he was removed from the investigation last February after he complained to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nevada.
Then last month he sent a whistleblower email to the U.S. Department of Justice, alleging a “widespread pattern of bad judgment, lack of discipline, incredible bias, unprofessionalism and misconduct, as well as likely policy, ethical and legal violations among senior and supervisory staff” at the Bureau of Land Management’s Office of Law Enforcement and Security.
Wooten wrote that supervisory agents with the bureau repeatedly mocked the defendants in an “amateurish carnival atmosphere” that resembled something out of middle school, displayed “clear prejudice” against the Bundys, their supporters and Mormons, and prominently displayed degrading altered booking photos of Cliven Bundy and other defendants in a federal office and in an office presentation.
The memo described “heavy handedness” by government officers as they prepared to impound Cliven Bundy’s cattle. He said some officers “bragged about roughing up Dave Bundy, grinding his face into the ground and Dave Bundy having little bits of gravel stuck in his face.” Dave Bundy, one of Cliven Bundy’s sons, was arrested April 6, 2014, while videotaping men he suspected were federal agents near his father’s ranch.
Wooten contends that supervisory agents failed to turn over required discovery evidence to the prosecution team that could help the defense or be used to question the credibility of a witness, as required by law.
The top agents also “instigated” the monitoring of jail phone calls between defendants and their wives without consent from the U.S. Attorney’s Office or the FBI, Wooten wrote, though the memo noted that Steven Myhre, Nevada’s acting U.S. attorney who is leading the prosecution of the Bundys, stopped the practice.
Myhre couldn’t be reached for comment late Thursday.
Cliven Bundy, sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy and Payne are accused of conspiring to block federal agents from enforcing court orders to confiscate family cattle on public land after Cliven Bundy failed to pay grazing fees and fines for years.
They’re also accused of using or carrying a firearm in a crime of violence, threatening a federal law enforcement officer, obstruction of justice and extortion. Their trial began Nov. 14 in Las Vegas.
Wooten accused Dan Love, the former special agent-in-charge of the cattle roundup for the Bureau of Land Management, of intentionally ignoring direction from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and his superiors “in order to command the most intrusive, oppressive, large scale and militaristic trespass cattle impound possible.” He described Love as immune from discipline, though Love eventually was fired from the bureau for misconduct in an unrelated case.
Wooten said he learned from other agency supervisors that Love had a “Kill Book” as a “trophy,” in which he essentially bragged about “getting three individuals in Utah to commit suicide,” following a joint FBI-BLM investigation into the alleged trafficking of stolen artifacts.
Wooten said his supervisor took photos in a secure command post at FBI headquarters in Las Vegas of an “Arrest Tracking Wall,” where photos of Cliven Bundy and co-defendant Eric Parker were marked with an “X” over them, and emailed out the photos, although no photos were allowed to be taken in that area.
Wooten called prosecutors in the Bundy case and told Myhre and Assistant U.S. Attorney Nadia Ahmed, as well as FBI special agent Joel Willis, of his fears that his supervisors weren’t sharing key witness statements with them.
On Feb. 16, Wooten said he asked Myhre if statements that Love made, such as “Go out there and kick Cliven Bundy in the mouth (or teeth) and take his cattle” or “I need you to get the troops fired up to go get those cows and not take any crap from anyone” would be considered evidence that must be shared with the defense. He said that Myhre replied, saying something like “we do now” or “it is now.”
Two days later, Wooten said his supervisor took him off the investigation and another Bureau of Land Management agent confiscated files from his office and from a safe in his office.
The material included computer hard drives, collected emails, text messages, case notes and “lessons learned,” Wooten wrote.
“These items were taken because they contained significant evidence of misconduct and items that would potentially embarrass BLM Law Enforcement Supervision,” the memo said. “I am convinced that I was removed to prevent the ethical and proper further disclosure of the severe misconduct.”
Wooten said his supervisor told him that Myhre “furiously demanded” that he be removed and that Myhre had mentioned something about the bureau’s failure to turn over all crucial evidence to his office.
Wooten noted that he was ordered not to contact the Nevada U.S. Attorney’s Office.
He said he believed Myhre “adopted an attitude of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell”’ or “preferred ignorance” when it came to potential information from the federal land management agency that would have been helpful to the Bundy defense.
He also said prosecutors relied on inaccurate talking points, particularly not disclosing at previous trials the fact there were government snipers on surveillance outside the Bundy Ranch before the April 12, 2014, showdown.
“Not only did Mr. Myhre in my opinion not want to know or seek out evidence favorable to the accused, he and my supervisor discouraged the reporting of such issues,” Wooten wrote.
Wooten said he had held Myhre in the highest regard, but believes his judgment is “clouded” by personal bias and a “desire to win the case at all costs.”
Wooten, now working as a bureau agent in Idaho, sent the memo to an associate deputy U.S. attorney general who serves as the U.S. Department of Justice’s national criminal discovery coordinator. He obtained the lawyer’s contact information during a training by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boise, Idaho.
“I have tried to resolve these issues through my chain of command but I have failed,” he wrote in the memo.
But he felt it was “his obligation” to report his findings, describing his memo as a “last resort.”
He didn’t return phone calls or messages Thursday night.
Cliven Bundy’s lawyer Bret O. Whipple declined any comment on the memo, and would only describe the new information received as “quite a development,” one he hadn’t seen in his 20-plus years of legal work.
“In my mind, I think the case should be dismissed by next Tuesday,” Whipple said. “I think I can get my client home for Christmas.”
U.S. District Judge Gloria M. Navarro has dismissed the jury until next Wednesday. She said she has at least seven to eight concerns about evidence or material that the government didn’t share with defense lawyers in a timely manner. She indicated she would consider potential remedies if she found violations under the Brady disclosure law, ranging from striking testimony of a witness to delaying the trial or declaring a mistrial.
She gave both sides deadlines to file responses and is expected to reconvene court Wednesday with the lawyers from both sides and defendants at 8 a.m.
— Maxine Bernstein