In Surprise Ruling, Ammon Bundy Released on House Arrest

November 30, 2017
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by Sarah Childress Senior Reporter

Bundy at the the U.S. District Courthouse in Las Vegas after being released from custody on Nov. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Ken Ritter)

A federal judge has ordered ranchers Ammon and Cliven Bundy released from prison, pending the outcome of their ongoing trial for the armed uprising three years ago that made them heroes among militias and anti-government extremists.

After nearly two years behind bars, Ammon Bundy walked out of a prison in Las Vegas on Thursday to the cheers of roughly two dozen supporters — one holding the yellow Gadsden flag, the symbol of the so-called Patriot movement. A shofar sounded in the distance. Clad in his characteristic cowboy hat, he held two of his children in his arms.

“It shows where the evidence is taking this case, and what the truth is,” Bundy told the crowd. His father Cliven refused to leave the prison while other defendants in the case were still behind bars, Cliven’s attorney said. A third defendant in the case, militia leader Ryan Payne, may also be released as part of Judge Gloria Navarro’s surprise order, which requires the men to remain under house arrest for the duration of the trial. Earlier this month, Navarro allowed Ammon’s brother, Ryan Bundy, to be released to a halfway house.

The defendants are facing charges of conspiracy and assault for the 2014 standoff at the family ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada that drew armed militia members from around the country. The tense standoff with agents from the federal Bureau of Land Management was followed by the occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon that left one of the occupiers dead. The Bundys and their co-defendants could face decades in prison if convicted.

But, as FRONTLINE reported in American Patriot, the government has struggled to hold the Bundys and their supporters accountable.

Last year, the Bundys were acquitted for their role in the nearly month-long occupation of the Malheur refuge in Oregon.

In April, a mistrial was declared for four Bundy supporters. Two were ultimately acquitted, and two others pleaded guilty to lesser charges — raising hopes among the Bundys’ supporters that, as in Oregon, the case against them would fail.

After being brought to Nevada to stand trial for the Bunkerville uprising, the Bundys petitioned for release several times, only to be denied on the grounds that they are flight risks or pose a danger to the community.

Before their trial began, in September, Navarro turned down a motion for release saying, “All of the judges who have conducted hearings, or reviewed appeals of detention decisions, have concluded that the … defendants should be detained as a flight risk or danger to the community or both.”

But Wednesday, Navarro reversed course after a closed hearing. Dan Hill, Ammon Bundy’s attorney, said in an interview with FRONTLINE he was surprised by the ruling. “I was more surprised by what was learned in the sealed hearings,” he said. “After that, I knew this was going to happen.”

Navarro’s order has been placed under seal, preventing prosecutors and defense attorneys from discussing what new information was behind the judge’s decision.

“This is a great day for the Bundy family,” said supporter Vincent Easley II, as he live-streamed Bundy’s reunion with his wife and children. “And I think it won’t be long before everybody’s out of there.”

The Bundys’ trial is expected to resume on December 11.

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