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