LAS VEGAS (CN) – Investigators faked a documentary on the Bundy Ranch standoff and plied co-defendant Gregory Burleson with alcohol to get him to talk, his attorney told a federal judge Tuesday.
Burleson, 52, of Phoenix, was one of the participants in the April 2014 armed standoff between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management over Bundy’s refusal to pay fees for grazing his cattle on public land.
Burleson has a DUI conviction and a weakness for alcohol, attorney Terrence M. Jackson told U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen for the District of Nevada during a hearing on motions by several co-defendants of the now-jailed Nevada rancher.
Jackson said investigators faked filming a documentary near Bundy’s ranch, located about 65 miles northeast of Las Vegas, about the April 2014 standoff with the Bureau of Land Management.
The investigators allegedly gave Burleson a shot of whiskey to get him to talk – now Burleson wants the video and related evidence suppressed.
Jackson called it a “complex, highly sophisticated scheme” by federal investigators, who coerced Burleson and “tried to get him to make statements to make their case.”
But Judge Leen wasn’t sure the investigators’ actions rose to the level of coercive. She said the agents had to be more than just “tricky.”
“It’s coercive if you trick them and film them and use their lack of sophistication,” Jackson said. “Mr. Burleson was taken advantage of by agents acting as a production company and using excessive amounts of alcohol.”
Jackson added that the investigators knew Burleson had a weakness for alcohol from his 2015 DUI conviction, and that any statements he made were not voluntary because he was drunk. He said investigators did not protect due process or Burleson’s right against self-incrimination.
Opposing the motion to suppress, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas D. Dickinson agreed the investigators gave Burleson a shot of whiskey, along with a Coke, but said it was impossible for Burleson to get “drunk in two seconds.”
Dickinson said Burleson was not in custody during what he called the “Longbow interview” – named for the documentary production company – that he had no promise of anonymity, and that he knew the interview was “to be released to the world.”
Leen did not rule on the motion to suppress during the hearing.
Co-defendant Dave Bundy, Cliven’s son, succeeded in regaining his iPad from federal investigators, which he had used to record activities during the standoff with federal authorities.
The iPad was seized, along with other items from Dave Bundy’s car, according to his attorney, Cal Potter.
Federal prosecutors said that during the trial, they don’t intend to use it or other items seized.
Potter told Leen some of the iPad’s contents likely would be used in Bundy’s defense.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nadia Ahmed told Leen the iPad is a “non-issue” for the prosecution.
Leen ordered Potter and federal prosecutors to agree on an “IT expert” to make a mirror image of the iPad’s contents to ensure the integrity of any information under seal.
Standoff participant and co-defendant Micah McGuire, 31, of Chandler, Arizona, filed motions to suppress Facebook information and evidence, arguing Nevada magistrates are not authorized to search property in California.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Erin Creegan told Leen the information is located in Menlo Park, California, at Facebook’s world headquarters.
Leen closed the 45-minute motions hearing without ruling on McGuire’s motions to suppress the Facebook evidence.
The three men, along with 14 other co-defendants, are charged with 16 felonies arising from their participation in the standoff with federal authorities near Bundy’s ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada.
They succeeded in stopping the BLM from confiscating about 400 head of cattle that were illegally grazing on federal land.
Cliven Bundy’s trial is scheduled for Feb. 6, but the co-defendants might be divided among three separate trials based on their level of participation in the standoff.