BOISE, Idaho — On April 18, 4th District Judge Lynn Norton issued an arrest warrant for right-wing activist Ammon Bundy in the defamation case brought against him by St. Luke’s Health System. The warrant was the result of Bundy violating a court order that barred him from intimidating or harassing witnesses, St. Luke’s attorney Erik Stidham said.
More than a month later, Bundy still hasn’t been arrested.
Law enforcement consultant and former Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney told the Idaho Statesman that is likely because of a key distinction — the warrant for Bundy’s arrest is civil rather than criminal. Because of that, Raney said, the timeline to arrest Bundy is different than if he were wanted on a criminal charge.
“There’s nothing that obligates the sheriff as to when to serve (the warrant),” Raney said. “It doesn’t mean they have to put themselves in danger to do this.”
What is a civil warrant?
Idaho’s rules of civil procedure allow judges to issue warrants if there’s probable cause that an individual is in contempt of court and is also likely to disregard a written notice to appear. Bundy has not appeared in court for the St. Luke’s proceedings.
The rules stipulate that civil arrest warrants must be executed “in the same manner as a warrant of arrest issued in a criminal case.” Warrants don’t include a timeline for arrest, but Raney said criminal warrants carry more urgency.
“It’s not like we have a victim out there and a potential for another victim,” Raney said.
Raney applauded Gem County Sheriff Donnie Wunder for avoiding a conflict with Bundy, who gained notoriety after participating in two armed standoffs against federal officials in the mid-2010s.
Several emails and phone calls to the Gem County Sheriff’s Office from the Statesman asking about the arrest warrant have gone unanswered. A Statesman reporter who went to the sheriff’s office in Emmett on May 8 was told the sheriff was not there and would be gone for the rest of the week.
Raney noted that it is unusual for a warrant to remain unserved for so long.
“Normally, everything would have been served well before now,” Raney told the Statesman. “That said, anyone who had openly threatened law enforcement and gathered people to physically resist service would be treated with the same caution.”
‘Surrounded by law enforcement’
Shortly after Norton issued the arrest warrant, the People’s Rights Network, an activist group Bundy founded, sent an alert claiming Bundy’s Emmett home was “surrounded by law enforcement.” Officials with the Gem County Sheriff said deputies briefly stopped by Bundy’s home but left after being told he was not there.
The group then called on the public to come to Bundy’s house for a barbecue, adding that attendees could camp on the property overnight.
Last month, Bundy confronted sheriff’s deputies who came onto his property to serve him with court documents related to the case. Following the confrontation, Wunder told St. Luke’s his office would not serve Bundy for fear of escalating the situation to violence. The hospital system asked the Idaho Supreme Court to direct Wunder to serve Bundy as part of his constitutional duties.
The next day, St. Luke’s dropped the request after Wunder agreed to serve Bundy.
For his part, Bundy has maintained that he has not acted violently. But St. Luke’s points to a statement Bundy made in the Idaho Dispatch in December, when he claimed that if pushed in the lawsuit, he would “meet ‘em on the front door with my friends and a shotgun.”
Bundy suggests he has sheriff’s support
In an interview with the Statesman, Bundy gave his own theories about why the Gem County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t arrested him.
Bundy said he believes Wunder, whom he has spoken to on the phone since the warrant was issued, disagrees with how St. Luke’s acted during the child welfare case.
“Why do I think I haven’t been arrested yet? Well, I think there’s several different things,” Bundy said by phone. “One is, I think the sheriff here has actually looked at this thing and he’s just not comfortable with St. Luke’s claims.”
Bundy said there had “been an effort to educate law enforcement” about the case.
“Overall, they’re starting to really see more and more — and it’s going to happen more and more, I promise you that — that this is not what St. Luke’s is saying it is,” Bundy said.
Bundy said he also believes the sheriff’s office has not executed the warrant because Bundy has surrounded himself with his supporters.
“I’ve got people here, friends, that are constantly here, making sure that something —imminent action — actually doesn’t happen against me,” Bundy said.
When pressed multiple times by the Statesman, Bundy did not answer whether he could see his supporters — whom Bundy referred to as friends and neighbors — becoming violent if the sheriff’s office did try to arrest him.
Warrant issued for witness intimidation
In December, Judge Norton issued a protection order that prohibited any defendants or agents of the defendants from using force to intimidate, threaten or harass anyone who had testified in the case or might be called as a witness.
In April, St. Luke’s successfully argued that Bundy had broken that order, resulting in Norton issuing the arrest warrant. St. Luke’s attorney Erik Stidham pointed to Bundy’s tendency to talk about violence in online videos and writings as evidence of the potential threat he could pose.
At least three witnesses were unwilling to testify in the defamation lawsuit because they fear the tactics used by the former gubernatorial candidate and his followers, Stidham said. The hospital attorney said that if Bundy is allowed to continue his threats, it could jeopardize further witness testimony.
Included in the hospital’s examples of Bundy’s violent rhetoric was a February post on the People’s Rights Network website, court files showed.
“There is no silver bullet to securing liberty,” Bundy wrote. “It is going to take unity, suffering and the willingness to use violence in defense, like it always has. Stop believing that some convention or other plot is the answer. Stop thinking that the courts or elected representatives are going to save us.”
In a later post, Bundy denied that those words had anything to do with the case.
When asked about St. Luke’s noting his online words, Bundy reiterated his belief in the post’s content.
“How do you think we became the country we became, and how do you think that any battle or anything that we’ve ever been involved in that secured freedom has always taken (violence),” Bundy told the Statesman. “You can’t deny history, right?”
Process servers deterred by Bundy
St. Luke’s has said no private process servers would deliver documents to Bundy because of his reputation for leading protests outside of people’s homes and targeting them online. Bundy also contacted Wunder’s office to report private process servers for trespassing on his property. Idaho law does not explicitly exempt private process servers from trespass laws.
Bundy has said he feels harassed by process servers and how frequently they’re delivering documents related to the defamation case.
Numerous private businesses serve process, meaning they deliver court documents to involved parties to ensure they’re aware of proceedings. Raney said they typically handle civil cases like divorces.
Raney said sheriff’s offices will sometimes fulfill those duties when private agencies have safety concerns. That can happen when a person is “volatile” or poses some other danger, Raney said. And servers can’t just leave documents in a mailbox. Idaho law requires them to be personally delivered to ensure the person involved in the proceedings receives the documents
“You can’t just leave them on the front step expecting (the person) to come home and find them and consider that service,” Raney said.
Raney said despite the delay in Bundy’s arrest, he believes “justice is going to be served.”
“Bundy’s going to be arrested,” Raney said. “He’s going to go to jail. He’s going to go to court. But it doesn’t need to happen today.”