Group suing BLM for records about Nevada standoff
June 13, 2014
LAS VEGAS — The Bureau of Land Management has been sued by a watchdog group that wants to review its decision-making and records about a cattle roundup that led to an armed standoff with supporters of a Nevada rancher in a grazing dispute.
The lawsuit by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility asks a federal court to order the Bureau of Land Management to turn over public records that may show agency employees were put at risk during the standoff.
The suit alleges the BLM isn't responding to Freedom of Information Act requests for documents about the April 12 decision to abandon a roundup of Cliven Bundy's cattle 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
The group wants to know what decisions led to a tense standoff involving hundreds of protesters facing BLM officials and roundup contractors at a corral gate — all beneath the gun sights of men with military-style AR-15 and AK-47 weapons an Interstate 15 overpass.
"They left themselves without a good option other than combing through thousands of acres for stray cows," Executive Director Jeff Ruch said Friday.
The lawsuit says the public "deserves to know whether and how the agency is changing its approach to handling charged situations such as the Bundy incident."
It also alleges the BLM is refusing for the first time since 1996 to provide an annual accounting of threats and attacks against BLM employees.
Bureau and Justice Department officials in Las Vegas and Washington declined to comment about the lawsuit filed Thursday in Washington, D.C.
But BLM spokeswoman Celia Boddington said bureau officials were "working within the legal system to ensure that those who broke the law are held accountable."
"The safety of government employees continues to be our top priority," she said.
The BLM backed down during the showdown, citing safety concerns, and released some 380 Bundy cattle collected during a week-long operation from a vast arid range half the size of the state of Delaware.
The agency said it would resolve the matter "administratively and judicially."
Left unresolved was the government's claim Bundy owes more than $1.1 million in fees and penalties for letting some 900 head of cattle trespass for 20 years on public land near his ranch and the rural town of Bunkerville, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
Self-described militia members continued to camp on private land near the Bundy ranch, while authorities in Las Vegas said local, state and federal officials continue to investigate whether laws were broken.
The lawsuit seeks records of criminal referrals the Bureau of Land Management has sought; any advisories or warnings to agency employees before and after the standoff; any directives or advisories for handling "similar incidents of armed resistance to lawful orders;" and all "decision documents" about the roundup and removal of Bundy cattle.
A federal judge in Las Vegas first ordered Bundy in 1998 to remove so-called "trespass cattle" from land the bureau declared a refuge for the endangered desert tortoise. Bureau officials obtained court orders last year allowing the roundup.