A federal judge has dismissed the charges against Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher whose armed standoff with federal officers over a government-ordered cattle roundup gained national attention in 2014.
Judge Gloria Navarro dismissed the criminal conspiracy charges against Bundy, his two sons, and a member of Bundy's militia on Monday, saying the prosecutors violated due process and engaged "in a deliberate attempt to mislead and distort the truth" by withholding evidence that could have helped exonerate the defendants.
"The court finds that the universal sense of justice has been violated," Navarro said. "The government conduct in this case was, indeed, outrageous."
Because the charges were dismissed with prejudice, the four men cannot be retried in the future for the same charges relating to the 2014 standoff near Bundy's cattle ranch in Nevada.
Navarro also ordered Bundy's immediate release from prison, where he elected to stay as a form of protest after being offered conditional release in November 2017.
"I'm not used to being free," said Bundy, 71, Monday after greeting his family and a large group of supporters. "I have been a political prisoner for more than 700 days."
Navarro already declared a mistrial in the case last month, and a new trial date was already set for February, but she ruled Monday that the new trial would give federal prosecutors unfair advantage.
What was the standoff all about in 2014?
The armed standoff was the result of a 21-year dispute between Bundy and The Bureau of Land Management over grazing fees. The federal agency said Bundy owed over $1 million in grazing fees for allowing his cattle to graze on public land and ordered the removal of Bundy's cattle from the public land.
Bundy, his sons, and a group of armed protesters engaged in a 7-day standoff with federal officials, at which point BLM decided not to enforce the court order.
Bundy and others were later charged with criminal conspiracy, assault on a federal officer, obstruction of justice, and weapons charges.