Testimony begins in Bunkerville standoff trial in Las Vegas

Defiant cattle rancher Cliven Bundy tossed a court order out the window of his truck and tried to pay grazing fees to Clark County instead of the federal government, a Justice Department lawyer testified Monday as prosecutors began to establish the chain of events that led to an armed standoff in Bunkerville in 2014.

Justice Department lawyer Terry Petrie took the witness stand Monday in the federal trial of six people accused of conspiring with Bundy to block the Bureau of Land Management from impounding the rancher’s cattle.

Petrie testified that several months before the cattle roundup, Bundy told him that “if the federal government showed up to impound his cattle … he would then physically respond.”

“He said he would be soliciting the assistance of his neighbors, his friends and his supporters,” Petrie said.

Petrie read from court documents dating to the early ‘90s that detail Bundy’s various attempts to flout federal court orders regarding his livestock. The testimony provided jurors a snapshot of the legal saga that resulted in the politically charged, armed confrontation.

In response to a mid-1990s court ruling, Bundy accused the BLM of harassing him, threw the court order out the window of his truck and drove away, Petrie testified. He said Bundy’s son then picked up the order, tore it into pieces and threw it on the ground.

Petrie testified that the rancher mailed a check for nearly $2,000 to Clark County in 1995. The amount, if paid to the proper agency, would have covered one year of grazing fees. But Bundy, who previously has said that the county sheriff has jurisdiction over the federal lands, refused to pay the federal government. Clark County returned the check to Bundy, Petrie said.

ETHICS ACCUSATIONS

Earlier in the day, a defense attorney representing one of the men on trial announced he recently received an unredacted version of a report that accuses a BLM agent of several conduct violations, including using his position to obtain sold-out Burning Man tickets in 2015.

Todd Leventhal, who represents defendant Scott Drexler, previously had cited suspicions that the federal agent targeted in the report is the same person who oversaw the cattle impoundment in Bunkerville.

“The unredacted version is quite scary, your honor,” Leventhal said.

The attorney said five or six other government witnesses were mentioned in the report, in addition to the special agent who is targeted. That agent was not named in open court Monday, but court filings suggest that defense attorneys believe it is Special Agent in Charge Dan Love.

U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro did not immediately rule on the issue. BLM Agent Rand Stover, who testified Monday, is among the people whom Leventhal indicated he would like to ask about the report, but court adjourned before defense lawyers had a chance to cross-examine the witness.

In questioning Stover Monday, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre tried to chip away at defense contentions that federal authorities restricted protesters’ First Amendment rights to freely assemble when they created a designated First Amendment area near the cattle roundup.

Stover testified under direct examination that the public lands were closed during the impoundment operation to ensure safety.

He said the “First Amendment area,” which was marked with orange cattle tape, was intended to create a safe place for the public “where they could see what was going on.”

Contact Jenny Wilson at jenwilson@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710. Follow @jennydwilson on Twitter.