A Nevada sheriff has said that rancher Cliven Bundy must bear responsibility for actions that led to a standoff between federal agents and militia members earlier this year, but added that the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must reconsider some of its methods used prior to the confrontation.
Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie told the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board Thursday that he had warned Bundy prior to the April standoff that any protests over the BLM's attempt to round up more than 500 of the rancher's cattle must be peaceful.
The BLM says that Bundy owes over $1 million in fees and penalties for trespassing on federal property without a permit over 20 years. Bundy, whose ancestors settled in the area in the late 1800s, refuses to acknowledge federal authority on public lands.
A federal judge in Las Vegas first ordered Bundy in 1998 to remove "trespass cattle" from land the bureau declared a refuge for the endangered desert tortoise. Bureau officials obtained court orders last year allowing the roundup.
Milita members descended upon the ranch after a video showing one of Bundy's sons being stunned by a Taser was circulated widely. Gillespie said that Bundy crossed the line by allowing his supporters onto his property to aim guns at law enforcement.
"If you step over that line, there are consequences to those actions," Gillespie said. "And I believe they stepped over that line. No doubt about it. They need to be held accountable for it."
Gillespie blamed the BLM for escalating the conflict and ignoring his advice to delay the roundup after he had a confrontational meeting with Bundy's children a few weeks before it began.
"I came back from that saying, `This is not the time to do this,' " the sheriff told the Review-Journal. "They said, `We do this all the time. We know what we're doing. We hear what you're saying, but we're moving forward."'
Gillespie also claimed that the BLM lied to him by saying that they had a place to move Bundy's cattle after the roundup. The sheriff said he later discovered that was not the case.
The bureau backed down during the showdown with Bundy and his armed supporters, citing safety concerns, and released some 380 Bundy cattle collected during a weeklong operation from a vast arid range half the size of the state of Delaware.
A statement made to the Associated Press by the BLM Saturday said the agency continues to pursue the matter "aggressively through the legal system."
BLM spokeswoman Celia Boddington also criticized Gillespie for claiming that the agency mishandled the operation and claimed that the bureau acted in "full coordination" with the sheriff's office.
"It is unfortunate that the sheriff is now attempting to rewrite the details of what occurred, including his claims that the BLM did not share accurate information," she said. "The sheriff encouraged the operation and promised to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us as we enforced two recent federal court orders."
"Sadly, he backed out of his commitment shortly before the operation - and after months of joint planning - leaving the BLM and the National Park Service to handle the crowd control that the sheriff previously committed to handling," she added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.