An Occupation In Eastern Oregon

Why The Bundy Family Won Again In Nevada

By John Notarianni (OPB)
Dec. 21, 2017 12:13 a.m.

Once again, members of the Bundy family have stymied federal prosecutors.


A U.S. District Court judge in Nevada declared a mistrial Wednesday in the case against rancher Cliven Bundy, his sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy, and Ryan Payne for their role in an armed standoff against federal agents in 2014.

You might remember the Bundy brothers and Payne; they were the organizers of the takeover at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge two years ago.

Payne pleaded guilty to his role at the refuge. The Bundy brothers were acquitted in the Oregon case.

Now there are questions about how the federal government handled the Nevada case. Journalist Leah Sottile covered Malheur and is in Nevada this week covering the trial for the Washington Post and other outlets. She spoke to "All Things Considered" host John Notarianni on Wednesday about the mistrial. Hear the entire conversation by using the audio player at the top of this story. Meanwhile, here are the highlights:

Evidence Withheld  


Judge Gloria Navarro declared the mistrial, in short, because there were six Brady Rule violations — cases where prosecutors withhold evidence that could be favorable to the defense.

Among other items, prosecutors failed to share evidence about the presence of a surveillance camera overlooking the Bundy family ranch, Bureau of Land Management snipers placed just outside the ranch and threat assessments done by federal officials that suggested the Bundys were not dangerous or capable of violence.

The Bundys and Ryan Payne all faced charges of conspiring to prevent federal officials from doing their jobs. In this case, that meant Bureau of Land Management officers who were trying to round up Bundy-owned cattle illegally grazing on public land.

A Mistrial Doesn’t Mean Not Guilty 

Navarro was quick to point out that the mistrial had to do with Brady violations by the prosecution, not the defendants’ guilt or innocence. She essentially was ruling that the Bundys and Payne could not have a fair trial without full access to the evidence.

The defendants had sought an outright dismissal of the case. Lawyers for both sides have until Dec. 29 to file their arguments for why the case should or should not be retried.

Federal Government Struggles 

The cases against Bundy family members in the Oregon and Nevada incidents are different, but there are some common themes.

In Oregon, prosecutors failed to convince a jury to convict despite the fact that much of the defense arguments had to do with their beliefs about the Constitution and public lands policy, rather than the specific laws they were charged with breaking.

A similar dynamic played out in Nevada before the mistrial.