LAS VEGAS – Jurors got a unique perspective from the FBI Monday of an armed standoff developing in a dry river wash where six defendants are accused of wielding weapons to force federal agents to abandon a round-up of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's cattle in April 2014.
Special Agent E.J. McEwen testified that people on the ground probably didn't know he was nearly 12,000 feet above, recording video from a single-engine airplane as the noontime standoff developed beneath an Interstate 15 overpass near the community of Bunkerville. At that altitude, the Cessna would be hard to see or hear, McEwen told Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre.
McEwen's images showed perhaps 200 people gathering on foot and on horseback with flags fluttering in a stiff breeze and dogs running ahead in a dry river wash beneath the overpass. Above them, a line of people were spread along the concrete side barriers of the freeway overpass.
The crowd faced a trio of pickup trucks and perhaps two dozen armed and armored federal agents and U.S. Bureau of Land Management employees guarding corrals holding almost 400 head of cattle collected by contract cowboys in previous days.
At several points, McEwen's camera zoomed in on people outside vehicles atop a ridge with a commanding view of the entire scene. The jury wasn't immediately told if they were government officials or Bundy backers.
Other views showed where then-Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie and Las Vegas police set up a command post near the freeway.
In the wash, a tense standoff ended with no shots fired, no one injured and the cows set free.
Nearly three years later, the government accuses the six defendants -- Gregory Burleson, Orville Scott Drexler, Todd Engel, Richard Lovelien, Eric Parker and Steven Stewart -- of charges including conspiracy, firearm offenses and assault on a federal officer. Testimony is expected to take about 10 weeks.
The trial is due to follow in May for Cliven Bundy, sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy and two other accused leaders of the alleged conspiracy. Trial for six co-defendants, including two other Bundy sons, is expected in August.
Myhre last week showed photos of each of the first six defendants with a rifle, and he told the jury it's a felony to use a gun to threaten the life of a federal law enforcement officer.
Defense attorneys denied their clients threatened anyone. They portrayed Burleson, Drexler, Lovelien, Parker and Stewart as citizens spurred by scuffles between federal agents and Bundy family members to travel from Arizona, Idaho and Montana to the Bundy ranch to protest government heavy-handedness.
Engel, who is serving as his own attorney, admitted having a weapon. But he said he never threatened federal agents.