Editor’s Note: In a legal setting, it’s always difficult to prove that video does NOT exist.
The trial against Cliven Bundy and his sons was delayed for a week over questions about whether the government withheld surveillance videos of the Bundy Ranch during the 2014 standoff.
Jurors were about to be called into the courtroom to hear opening statements Tuesday when the trial derailed and federal prosecutors were asked to account for evidence they said did not exist.
U.S. District Court Judge Gloria Navarro said she could not determine, based on the government’s answers, if federal agents recorded footage or took notes of the live feed from surveillance cameras positioned on hills overlooking the Bundy home.
“It’s difficult for me to believe there was no watching,” Navarro said. “It doesn’t make sense to me to have a camera and have no one watching it.”
The revelation about video surveillance surfaced at an evidentiary hearing Friday when a former National Parks Service ranger testified she saw feeds from at least one camera. The witness said the FBI set up the cameras and that the feed played throughout the four-day standoff on a television inside a command-post trailer.
Acting Nevada U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre told the judge that prosecutors had nothing to turn over because the camera only operated for part of a day before it was damaged, likely by a vehicle hitting and running over it – and that no one was watching the camera feed.
“That’s why we don’t have any information from this event to turn over … We’ve done our due diligence,” Myhre said. “If it had evidentiary value, we would be using it ourselves.”
Navarro replied, “Unless it was exculpatory.”
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy is accused along with his two sons, Ryan and Ammon Bundy, and militia member Ryan Payne of organizing an armed rebellion to prevent Bureau of Land Management agents from rounding up the family’s cattle from public lands.
They have been charged with 15 felonies, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice, extortion, using firearms in the commission of crimes, assault and threatening federal officers. If convicted, they could spend the rest of their lives in prison.
Cliven Bundy’s lawyer, Bret Whipple, asked the court Tuesday to throw out the charges against his client and to dismiss the case over the government’s failure to turn over the surveillance footage.
“If there’s video of live feed at the Bundy Ranch, that precludes our ability to go forward,” he said, adding the potential footage “irrevocably harms” his client’s case.
Ryan Bundy, who is representing himself, said in court Tuesday that he requested information about video surveillance of his home months ago and that federal prosecutors mocked his discovery motion as a “fantastical fishing expedition.”
Bundy said in his motion that he saw video cameras in the hills above his home and saw federal agents servicing those cameras during the four-day standoff. His questioning of the National Park Service ranger on Friday revealed the surveillance cameras.
Navarro said it should not be too difficult for prosecutors to quickly produce a witness to testify about the video footage.
“I think it has potentially useful information and that the defense is entitled to it,” she said. “I’m not convinced that nothing exists.”
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