Bundy brothers, 3 others balk at pleas in Nevada standoff case

From L-R brothers Ammon Bundy and Ryan Bundy, taken during a 2014 public conference the Bundys held following the Bureau of Land Management's withdrawal from the standoff at the Bundy Ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada, April 2014 | Composite image from photos by Mori Kessler, St. George News

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Two sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and three other men refused to enter pleas in federal court in Las Vegas to charges in an armed confrontation with government agents two years ago.

Ammon Bundy, one of the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, speaks with reporters during a news conference at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, near Burns, Ore. The group calls itself Citizens for Constitutional Freedom and has sent a "demand for redress" to local, state and federal officials. Armed protesters took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday after participating in a peaceful rally over the prison sentences of local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon, Jan. 4, 2016 | AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, St. Goerge News
This January 2016 photo shows Ammon Bundy during a news conference at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters near Burns, Oregon, Jan. 4, 2016 | AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, St. Goerge News

Magistrate Judge George Foley Jr. entered not guilty pleas on behalf of each man during a sometimes contentious arraignment that featured cat-calls and cheers from about 30 Bundy backers and defendants’ family members, under watchful eyes of about a dozen U.S. marshals.

“We don’t need any outbursts,” Foley warned from the U.S. District Court bench Friday. Twice he told the restive audience, “This is not a show.”

Before balking at entering his plea, Ammon Bundy alleged he had been mistreated in custody to Nevada from Oregon, where he and the others have been held since their arrests in the occupation of a U.S. wildlife refuge this year.

He said he’d been handcuffed for 23 hours during the move, including 11 hours to a bench, and that jailers once passed him by when other inmates were fed. He said he got a meal after he complained.

“I do not see how we are being treated as innocent in any way,” he said.

His brother and co-defendant, Ryan Bundy, professed to understand his rights but not the charges against him. He also said he wants to serve as his own lawyer.

The judge noted that a court clerk and prosecutor Steven Myhre had just spent 94 minutes reading the 63-page, 16-count indictment aloud. The word-for-word recital came after the defendants exercised their right to hear the charges against them.

A grand jury accused 19 people — including Friday’s defendants, family patriarch Cliven Bundy and 13 others who were arraigned previously — of conspiracy, obstruction, weapon, threats and assault charges in the April 2014 standoff with federal agents near Bunkerville, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. All 19 are now in federal custody in and around Las Vegas.

Bundy family, supporters and civilian militia at the overpass demanding the BLM to release the cattle, Clark County, Nev., April 12, 2014 | Photo courtesy of MaryBeth Greenwalt, St. George News
This April 2014 file photo shows the Bundy family, supporters and civilian militia at the overpass demanding the BLM to release the cattle, Clark County, Nev., April 12, 2014 | Photo courtesy of MaryBeth Greenwalt, St. George News

Seven men, including the five in court Friday, are also facing conspiracy, weapon, theft and damaging government property charges in Portland, Oregon, stemming from the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

U.S. District Judge Anna Brown in Portland has scheduled jury selection to begin Sept. 7 in the Oregon case, despite defense attorneys’ objections that they won’t have enough time to prepare and that it would be improper to make their clients defend two cases at once in different states.

Co-defendants Blaine Cooper and Ryan Payne stood Friday next to their court-appointed attorneys in Las Vegas and said their rights were being violated.

Payne told the judge it was “preposterous, sir,” to have to defend himself against federal charges in two jurisdictions at the same time.

“I don’t understand the pretense of this level of government to bring forth such charges,” he added.

Brian Cavalier finished his arraignment — “I will not be entering a plea today,” he said — by offering federal prosecutors a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution.

The cordon of marshals tensed when Cooper picked up the pamphlet and tossed it onto the table of the U.S. attorneys handling the case.

Another federal magistrate judge has scheduled an April 22 hearing to determine if the Nevada case will be designated “complex,” and if a May 2 trial date is feasible.

Ammon Bundy’s attorney in the Oregon case, Michael Arnold, was removed from the Las Vegas courtroom gallery by marshals after beginning to text on his cellphone while the indictment was being read.

Arnold protested as he left that he hadn’t heard a pre-hearing warning that cellphone use was prohibited, because he was meeting with his client at the time.

The lawyer later said he was using the device to meet a deadline set by the judge in the Oregon case.

“Literally I had to be in two places at once,” Arnold told The Associated Press. “It illustrates the impossibility of doing two cases at one time justly and fairly.”

Written by KEN RITTER, Associated Press

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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