LAS VEGAS — A U.S. judge in Nevada declared a mistrial Wednesday in the case against a states’ rights figure, his two sons and another man accused of leading a 2014 armed standoff with federal agents during a. Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro in Las Vegas dismissed a jury seated last month for the long-awaited trial of , his sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy and self-styled Montana militia leader Ryan Payne.
It is the latest in a string of failed prosecutions in Nevada and Oregon against those who have opposed federal control of vast swaths of land in the American West.
Jurors in Portland, Oregon, acquitted the two Bundy sons of taking over a U.S. wildlife refuge in Oregon for more than a month in early 2016 amid calls for the U.S. government to turn over public land to local control.
In the Nevada case, Navarro faulted federal prosecutors for failing to turn over all evidence to defense attorneys, including records about the conduct of FBI and Bureau of Land Management agents during the standoff.
“The government is obligated to disclose all evidence that might be favorable” to the defense, the judge said.
The case stemmed from an armed confrontation that capped a decades long dispute over. The 71-year-old rancher says his family has grazed cattle for more than a century in the area and insists public land belongs to states, not the U.S. government.
Government agents began rounding up his animals. The four on trial were accused of enlisting armed gunmen to force government agents to abandon the effort.
“A mistrial is a very bad result for the government,” said Ian Bartrum, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, law professor who has followed the case closely.
Bartrum had cast the trial as a test of whether U.S. authorities could enforce their own land policy in Western states where the government owns or controls vast expanses.
“It looks even worse because it isn’t the sort of jury nullification we’ve seen before, but actual incompetence (or worse) by the prosecution,” Bartrum said in an email. “It certainly erodes a lot of confidence in the federal government’s motives.”
Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre had no immediate answer about whether prosecutors would retry the case. If so, the Bundys and Payne still would face 15 felony charges including assault and threats against federal officers, firearms counts, obstruction and extortion.