“BLM’ s apparent culture of impunity for law enforcement misconduct is a detriment to the public and those employees committed to ethical service. Both employees and supervisors have a duty to report any wrongdoing and misconduct to ensure a respectful, professional, and safe work environment.”
Comments by editor
On January 10, Rob Bishop and Bruce Westerman of the House Natural Resources Committee wrote a letter to the Acting Director of the Bureau of Land Management, Brian Steed, citing flagrant ethical and legal violations by agents involved in a number of high profile and deadly incidents.
Foremost among the troubling activities recounted in the letter were the ‘serious and systematic’ acts of misconduct by BLM law-enforcement agents involved in the infamous Bundy Ranch raid of 2014. At the center of these controversies is Dan Love, the BLM Law Enforcement Director in charge of the raid, who is mentioned in the letter as having ‘abused his authority in multiple instances.’ Although the letter refers to Dan Love’s behavior only generally, his despicable history goes back several years, to the antiquities sting, Operation Cerberus, which resulted in the deaths of four men in the Four Corners region.
It was a detailed memo issued by a whistleblower from within the agency who confirmed what had been repeatedly claimed by both the victims of BLM brutality at the ranch, as well as the defendants arrested in its aftermath. Instances of ‘misconduct,’ ‘unprofessionalism,’ ‘incredible bias,’ and worse on the parts of BLM agents who raided the Bundy Ranch were so significant as to wholly undermined the prosecution’s case. The BLM debacle at the Bundy Ranch resulted in one of the most embarrassing and expensive black eyes to the federal government in recent memory.
Also cited in the letter is the tragic case of Kate Steinle, a young woman who was murdered by a criminal illegal who had in his possession a BLM-issued pistol. The pistol apparently belonged to a BLM agent who left the unsecured weapon in a backpack in his vehicle. The senseless murder of Kate Steinle has brought into question not only misconduct and incompetence on the part of BLM law enforcement agents, but also the dangerous ‘sanctuary city’ policies of progressive enclaves across the country.
The text of the letter reads:
Mr. Brian Steed Acting Director
Bureau of Land Management 1849 C Street, N.W., Room 5665
Washington, D.C. 20240
Dear Mr. Steed,
On January 8, 2018, a federal judge denied prosecutors’ request to retry Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy and his supporters for their actions during a 2014 armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This ruling follows a December 20, 2017 decision by the court to declare a mistrial based on federal prosecutors improperly withholding evidence from the defense. The court’s decision follows numerous reports of serious and systemic misconduct by the BLM officials involved in the Bundy case. Of concern, a recent memo from a BLM whistleblower to the Department of Justice (DOJ) appears to show that information regarding extensive misconduct and unprofessional behavior by BLM officials involved in the Bundy case, as well as other relevant information, was knowingly withheld from prosecutors. In this report, the employee alleges a ” widespread pattern of bad judgment, lack of discipline, incredible bias, unprofessionalism and misconduct” exists among senior and supervisory BLM law enforcement officers.
These allegations are alarming for several reasons. First, these reports appear to indicate that BLM officials purposefully withheld critical information from the prosecution and subsequently retaliated against the BLM employee who attempted to bring the withheld information to the prosecution. In addition, it is highly unusual for a federal prosecution to end in a mistrial that bars retrying the case. Approximately 91 percent of people charged with a crime in federal court are found guilty and 77 percent of defendants standing trial are convicted. The failure of prosecutors to achieve a conviction in the Bundy case raises questions about the conduct of BLM law enforcement and their ability to carry out effective, fair, and professional law enforcement investigations.
The failures in the Bundy case and previous cases display serious misconduct by BLM law enforcement officials, and strongly suggest that there are systemic issues within BLM’s law enforcement operations. Previous Department of the Interior (DOI) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reports, as well as whistleblower accounts, detail a litany of law enforcement problems from poor evidence handling procedures due to a lack of professionalism, and even the deliberate withholding of information from Congress. While many of these reports revolve around a former single BLM law enforcement officer, Dan Love, who abused his authority in multiple instances, misconduct is not exclusive to this one individual. For example, in June 2015, a BLM law enforcement officer failed to adequately safeguard his loaded firearm. The pistol was stolen from a backpack and left in his personal vehicle. This stolen gun was subsequently used in the shooting death of San Francisco resident Kate Steinle. In spite of the incident, rather than facing disciplinary action, the BLM officer whose gun was stolen was promoted to a supervisory role. Just this month, a federal judge allowed a wrongful death lawsuit against the BLM on behalf of Ms. Steinle’s estate to move forward.
These types of examples continue to fuel the concerns of many Americans in the western United States, whose interactions with BLM are frequent and impactful. BLM’ s apparent culture of impunity for law enforcement misconduct is a detriment to the public and those employees committed to ethical service. Both employees and supervisors have a duty to report any wrongdoing and misconduct to ensure a respectful, professional, and safe work environment.
The Committee is encouraged by the work DOI has already initiated to address some of these issues at the agency level, including the emphasis on ensuring retaliation or reprisal for reports of misconduct is not tolerated. We are also hopeful that the new DOI leadership will take action to address the root cause of BLM’s past failures and help restore trust in the bureau’s ability to effectively and fairly enforce the law on federally owned land.
To assist the Committee in its oversight of BLM law enforcement operations and investigations, please provide a briefing to Committee staff concerning the outcome of the Bundy case, as well as any updates to BLM policy or guidelines addressing the issues outlined in this letter no later than January 24, 2017.
Please contact the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee staff at (202) 225-7107 with any questions about this request. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Committee on Natural Resources
Chairman on Natural Resources
Bruce Westerman Chairman
Subcommittee, Oversight & Investigations
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