Summary: A public interest group demands for charges to be brought against a Nevada rancher who prevented agents from seizing cattle in a standoff earlier this year. The U.S. Attorney’s office has clarified that the investigation is ongoing to determine whether federal law was broken during the standoff, in which the rancher employed an armed militia.
Las Vegas Review Journal reports that a public interest group was highly mistaken when it stated that authorities were “sitting on” cases involving the Bureau of Land Management. The cases were proposed for prosecution weeks after the agency had a standoff with Cliven Bundy, a Clark County rancher.
PEER, or Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an organization including local, state, and federal natural resource employees, revealed Tuesday that the BLM sent 35 criminal referrals to the Justice Department on April 30. This was three weeks after agents who sought to round up cattle that belonged to Bundy were met by an armed militia. The militia was there to defend the rancher, who has stirred up controversy in the area. The cattle had allegedly been trespassing on federal rangeland. The roundup was cancelled due to the threat of violence.
PEER complained that the number of referrals was five times the number of cases the BLM has ever filed in a month, and actually exceeded the complaints filed by BLM during the remainder of the fiscal year. PEER alleges that the cases were listed as active and had neither been accepted nor denied for prosecution. A research group at Syracuse University, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, analyzed the data.
U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden clarified that the cases cited were not linked to Bundy, but instead involved the 2013 Burning Man festival in Northern Nevada. These cases have been handled and are closed. Bogden emphasized that his office “does not sit on criminal referrals from BLM,” and that anyone who suggested otherwise was incorrect.
In May, Clark County officials stated that the FBI was investigating whether federal law was broken during the standoff. PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch complained, “A criminal referral is the toughest option available to a land management agency like BLM but that action is toothless if the U.S. Attorney ignores it. BLM cannot do its job without legal support from the Justice Department.”
In response, Bogden explained that the requests PEER cited in its report “have no connection to BLM’s plan to enforce a federal court order and the roundup of Cliven Bundy’s cattle that were unlawfully grazing on federally managed lands.” His office added, “There were 36 cases opened by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nevada on April 30, 2014, but they were citations issued at the 2013 Burning Man festival for things such as violating closure orders, driving with obstructed license plates, littering, possession of controlled substances, and creating a hazard or nuisance, all of which have been resolved and closed.”
Bogden stated that his agency does not comment on reports by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
In the 1990s, a PEER report discovered that Nevada ranked in the bottom quarter of producing cases for prosecution of criminal complaints filed by the U.S. Forest Service between 1992 and 1998. Gloria Flora, the then-supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, cited the lack of responsiveness in her 1999 resignation.
However, the Justice Department upped its prosecutions after 1999, with over 90 percent of BLM and Interior Department referred cases being prosecuted from 1999 to 2013.
PEER demands action against the militia that participated in the standoff, citing tension in the West that will endanger rangers and others who represent the government. In July, the Department of Homeland Security stated the “perceived victory by militia extremists in a show of force” against the BLM “will likely inspire additional anti-government violence over the next year.”
PEER filed suit in June, alleging that the BLM was wrongfully withholding documents regarding the seizure of the cattle. Bundy has long fought with the U.S. government over grazing rights. The Justice Department’s policy of withholding details of criminal complaints until they are fully resolved has also been criticized. David Burnham, co-director of Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, noted that such a practice was not unusual.
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