Federal prosecutors pressed forward Friday with charges against lawyer Marcus Mumford that back up the claims of a handful of U.S. Marshals who tackled and Tased Mumford as he argued in court for the release of his client, Ammon Bundy.
Moments after the stunning Oct. 27 acquittal of Bundy and his co-defendants, Mumford argued that Bundy should be immediately released to walk freely out of the courtroom. Half a dozen U.S. Marshals quickly closed in as Judge Anna J. Brown explained that Bundy was still under a custody hold over his pending charges in Nevada, related to the 2014 standoff at his father's Bunkerville ranch.
But Mumford grew increasingly impassioned, and the marshals ended up piling atop him and shocking him with a stun gun. They arrested him and charged him with failure to comply with a federal police officer and impeding government employees.
Some observers had expected the government to drop the charges. But prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney for Western Washington today plowed ahead on misdemeanor charges that could make them look ridiculous.
It's a strategy of doubling down by federal prosecutors. The office of U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Wiliams was humiliated by the October acquittals of militants who seized Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Yet the U.S. Attorney for Western Washington—who took over the Mumford case from Williams—continues to pursue the prosecution.
That tack is also reflected in prosecutors' plan to march forward in February with the conspiracy charges against the second round of Malheur occupiers—the same that they were unable to prove last fall.
Mumford today pleaded not guilty to the charges of disrupting government duties and failing to comply with a lawful order. His lawyer, Michael Levine, said he'd never heard of a similar courtroom situation.
"I truly believe it's unprecedented and I've been practicing law for almost 40 years," Levine said after the hearing. "I can't recall an incident where an attorney in the midst of an argument on behalf of his client is tackled and Tased twice, surrounded by the force of the state."
The U.S. Attorney's Office did not respond to requests for comment.
The packed courtroom on Friday included most of the defense attorneys in the Bundy case, some of whom wore pins that said "Free Marcus Mumford."
Defense attorney Matt Schindler, who represented Ken Medenbach in the Bundy trial and was standing about 10 feet from the scuffle on the day of the verdict, said after Friday's hearing that no one from the U.S. Attorney's office had contacted him or the other defense attorneys who observed the incident to hear their version of events.
"I'm embarrassed that no one from their offices has contacted me," Schindler said. "They should contact all the witnesses before they make their charging decision. What the fuck? That's their job. To take the officer's version of events and evaluate whether to pursue a charge."
Schindler said he planned to directly challenge the marshals' version of events outlined in the statement of probable cause issued with Mumford's citation.
In the statement, U.S. Marshal Colin Fawcett describes Mumford yelling and taking up a "boxer's stance," which he called a "pre-assault indicator." And the statement makes no mention of Tasing Mumford.
Schindler called that version of events "bullshit."
Schindler said he introduced himself to Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Ohms after Friday's hearing and offered to testify in the trial scheduled for April.
"I explained that it might make sense for someone in his office to contact me about what I witnessed in the courtroom before I'm a witness and calling all of his witnesses liars," Schindler said.
"To the extent that someone says that Marcus Mumford took a boxer's stance and attempted some kind of aggressive or violent action, they're lying," Schindler said after the hearing. "That's just a fact. The guy was trying to make a fucking legal argument to a judge. So that's what I'll say."
After the hearing, several lawyers stood clustered in the hallway, discussing their surprise that the government didn't drop the case.
"That's what I was expecting to have happen and I'm stunned that it didn't," Schindler said. "Again, it's a demonstration of poor judgment on the part of this office. They have made a series of these kinds of decisions and this is another one."
Correction: This story originally stated the prosecution is being pursued by the U.S. Attorney for Oregon. In fact, the case has been handed to the U.S. Attorney for Western Washington.