LAS VEGAS — A rancher's son at the center of an armed standoff with government agents near his family ranch in Nevada in 2014 and a takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge in 2016 was released Thursday from federal custody in Las Vegas.
Ammon Bundy, 42, was greeted by his wife and six children while friends cheered as he walked out of the federal courthouse.
His first words after 22 months behind bars were about family and American freedoms and his reasons for opposing federal power.
"It's about people, and life, and trying to do the best we can to promote and benefit the enjoyment of life," he said. "That's all we've tried to do."
Bundy's brief comments to reporters quickly shifted to the surprising order on Wednesday by Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro to release him, his father, Cliven Bundy, and a co-defendant from jail to house arrest with friends during their ongoing trial on charges in the armed standoff that stopped a federal roundup of Bundy cattle from public land.
Navarro didn't specify why she reversed previous detention rulings. Her decision followed a four-hour, closed hearing amid questions from defense teams about whether federal prosecutors have turned over complete evidence records, and about the conduct of FBI and other government agents during the standoff.
"I want to give Judge Navarro some credit here," Ammon Bundy said outside the courthouse. "She saw something, and she did with her power what she had authority to do.
"It shows where the evidence is taking this case, and what the truth is," Bundy said.
Cliven Bundy, 71, refused the offer and remains in custody.
"There are still a lot of people that are incarcerated right now that he feels a little bit of responsibility for," Ammon Bundy said of his father. "He wants to make sure they're not forgotten ... that they get out as well."
Two other Bundy sons, Dave and Mel Bundy, also remain in federal detention awaiting a trial next year with co-defendants Brian Cavalier, Micah McGuire, Joseph O'Shaughnessy and Jason Woods.
Navarro ruled that Ryan Payne could be released once a federal judge in Portland, Oregon, approves. Payne's defense attorney, Ryan Norwood, said that authorization could come in several days.
Payne, Ammon Bundy and Ryan Bundy were among a group of people arrested in January 2016 following an occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon.6 comments on this story
Payne pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge before a trial at which Ammon Bundy and his elder brother, Ryan Bundy, were acquitted of all charges. Payne is now fighting to withdraw his plea that is expected to bring a sentence of more than three years in prison.
Ryan Bundy is also standing trial in Las Vegas. Navarro on Wednesday relaxed release restrictions she set earlier this month when she allowed him to live at a halfway house while serving as his own attorney.
Ryan Bundy, 45, still has a GPS monitor. But he can split time between a friends' home the Las Vegas area and his own home in Mesquite.