(CN) - A rancher's son best known for participating in an armed standoff with federal land agents four years ago and now an independent candidate for Nevada governor is suing the federal government for malicious prosecution.
In a federal lawsuit filed in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Ryan Bundy contends the government wrongfully tried to convict he and he his father, Cliven Bundy, after the men tried to stop a roundup of Bundy cattle from federal land.
Charges were dismissed against most defendants by a federal judge in Las Vegas in January, after a whistleblower, Larry Wooten, revealed federal prosecutors had engaged in intentional and willful prosecutorial misconduct.
In her ruling, Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro said the government failed to disclose to defense lawyers evidence that Bureau of Land Management agents and the FBI had provoked the Bundy family into calling supporters to their defense by acts including "insertion and positioning of snipers and cameras surveilling the Bundy home."
Bundy’s complaint names U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Attorney Generals Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder, former Bureau of Land Management chief Neil Kornze, and former FBI Director James Comey as defendants.
Bundy says the defendants conspired to deprive he and his family of their constitutional rights after they refused to pay federal grazing fees to the Bureau of Land Management.
Under defendant Lynch’s orders, the complaint says, Bundy was indicted in February 2016 on charges of assault, threats against government employees and firearms offenses related to the event.
Bundy says he had a right to carry his firearms during the time of the standoff.
“They unlawfully incarcerated me for almost two years without bail and presumed that I was guilty before proven innocent,” Bundy told Courthouse News on Wednesday. “It was malicious and they must be held liable.”
Wooten, a former investigator with the Land Bureau, revealed that important information related to Bundy’s potential innocence was withheld. This included footage of the Bundy ranch that had been streamed to officials, and evidence that F.B.I agents were involved in the incident.
Wooten also claimed that the Bureau instigated the surveillance of Bundy’s phone conversations with his wife while he was in jail.
“That is why the case was thrown out,” Bundy said. “But, this malicious prosecution is standard practice for the government.”
He is focusing his lawsuit on refuting the legality of these actions, and held a press conference for his constituents in Nevada on Wednesday to address the new development.
Deeply ingrained in the Bundy family history is a nearly twenty-year legal battle with the Bureau of Land Management. The Bureau began restricting the size of the ranch family’s cattle herd in 1993 and limited the amount of land they were to use for grazing, because they occupied federal land.
Cliven Bundy, the patriarch, objected and refused to pay grazing fees that amounted to about $1 million after several years.
The Bureau of Land Management’s attempt to round up and impound cattle on the Bundy family ranch near Bunkerville, Nevada in 2014 was met with the resistance of armed protestors who gathered in support of the family from across the country.
The federal government’s imprisonment of two nearby ranchers inspired a second, nationally-watched, conflict between the Bundy family and government agencies.
Guns in hand, Ryan and his brother Ammond led like-minded followers in a 41-day standoff, seizing the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in January 2016.
Eventually, eight protestors, including the Bundy brothers, were arrested. Protest leader LaVoy Finicum was fatally shot by state troopers the same day.
Bundy told Courthouse News that these experiences will affect his policies if he is elected governor. He said he intends keep the government’s reach in its “proper place.”
“The only legitimate purpose of the existence of government is to aid the individual in defending rights,” he said. “ This was an example of tyrannical action.”
A representative of the Justice Department declined to comment on the lawsuit.
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