Videos lead de­fense open­ing in Bundy, ranch­ers standoff trial

The Republican Herald - - NATION - BY KEN RIT­TER

LAS VE­GAS — A fed­eral jury got a first look Tues­day at videos of con­fronta­tions in­volv­ing armed fed­eral agents and Bundy fam­ily mem­bers that rancher Cliven Bundy’s lawyer said pro­vided a cat­a­lyst for an April 2014 gun­point standoff and a trial now un­der­way in Las Ve­gas.

One clip that at­tor­ney Bret Whip­ple said spread widely on the in­ter­net showed Bundy’s sis­ter, Mar­garet Hus­ton, thrown to the ground by a fed­eral agent af­ter she ap­proached the driver’s side of a ve­hi­cle in­volved in a U.S. Bureau of Land Man­age­ment cat­tle round-up near the Bundy ranch.

Whip­ple de­rided an in­ter­pre­ta­tion that Act­ing U.S. At­tor­ney Steven Myhre of­fered to the jury — that the 57-year-old Hus­ton had to be pulled away from the front of the truck and knocked down for her own safety.

Myhre cast the 71-year-old Cliven Bundy as the leader of a con­spir­acy with sons Ryan and Am­mon Bundy and co-de­fen­dant Ryan Payne to en­list armed mili­tia mem­bers to force the fed­eral agents “at the end of a gun” to aban­don ef­forts to col­lect his cat­tle from pub­lic range­land.

“Videos don’t lie,” Whip­ple said. “See if Aunt Meg was in front of the ve­hi­cle.”

An­other clip showed Bundy’s son, David Bundy, hauled to the ground and ar­rested on the shoul­der of a state high­way by two agents who ap­proached him for tak­ing photos of armed men with guns on a ridge top near the Bundy ranch.

A third showed an agent zap­ping Bundy son Am­mon Bundy with a stun gun af­ter he drove an ATV into a dump truck that Whip­ple said was haul­ing ir­ri­ga­tion equip­ment il­le­gally ripped by the gov­ern­ment from arid pub­lic range where the fam­ily grazed cat­tle for 140 years.

“So many dif­fer­ent peo­ple saw in­jus­tice,” Whip­ple said dur­ing his open­ing state­ments in what is ex­pected to be a four-month trial. “The gov­ern­ment talks about the Bundys be­ing threat­en­ing, in­tim­i­dat­ing, in­ter­fer­ing. At the end of the day, you’re go­ing to de­ter­mine if it was a crime or not. At the end of the day, the gov­ern­ment is ac­count­able to we the peo­ple.”

Bundy son, Ryan Bundy, who is serv­ing as his own at­tor­ney, is ex­pected to make an open­ing state­ment Wed­nes­day. Fed­eral pub­lic de­fend­ers are ex­pected to pro­vide a case over­view for de­fen­dant Ryan Payne, a Mon­tana man who headed a self-styled mili­tia group dubbed Op­er­a­tion Mu­tual Aid.

At­tor­ney Daniel Hill, rep­re­sent­ing Am­mon Bundy, said he and lawyer Mor­gan Philpot may wait un­til af­ter the pros­e­cu­tion rests to make an open­ing.

The de­fense main­tains the four men didn’t wield weapons and didn’t con­spire with any­one.

Whip­ple noted that no shots were fired and no one was in­jured in the standoff near Bunkerville, about 80 miles north­east of Las Ve­gas.

He blamed a fed­eral land man­age­ment re­gional su­per­vi­sor, who has since been dis­missed, for the con­duct of cat­tle im­pound­ment op­er­a­tion agents that at­tracted at­ten­tion of armed pro­test­ers who an­swered a Bundy fam­ily call for sup­port.

As the long-awaited trial opened in Las Ve­gas, Myhre re­jected sup­port­ers’ char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of Bundy, his sons and Payne as peace­ful pro­test­ers and states’ rights free­dom fighters.

“This case is not about protest­ing. This case is about break­ing the law,” Myhre said, cast­ing the April 12, 2014, armed standoff as ex­tor­tion and theft from the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment of al­most Bundy cat­tle that had been rounded up.

“This is not a case about cat­tle graz­ing. It’s about whether you use force and vi­o­lence to en­force your be­lief,” Myhre said. “They got what they wanted that day. They got it at the end of a gun.”

Each de­fen­dant faces 15 felony counts on nine charges in­clud­ing con­spir­acy, as­sault and threats against fed­eral of­fi­cers, firearms counts, ob­struc­tion and ex­tor­tion. Stacked to­gether, con­vic­tions on all charges carry the pos­si­bil­ity of more than 170 years in prison.

The trial sets up as a test of pub­lic land poli­cies in Western U.S. states like Ne­vada. Ju­ries have twice balked at full con­vic­tions of men who had guns dur­ing the tense Bundy standoff.

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