Ammon Bundy ordered to pay $50 million. But will the hospital ever see the money?
A jury has ordered anti-government extremist Ammon Bundy and associates to pay more than $50 million in damages to Idaho's largest hospital in connection with armed protests last year that led to a security lockdown.
The decision handed down late Monday follows a ten day civil trial in which Bundy was a no show and where attorneys with St. Luke's Hospital outlined what they called an extensive campaign of bullying, intimidation and disinformation directed at doctors and medical staff that they say continues today.
"Standing up to threats, bullying, intimidation, disruption and self serving actions was necessary. Inaction would have signaled that their menacing behavior was acceptable," said Chris Roth, CEO of St. Luke's Health System, in a statement.
The drama goes back to March of 2022 when Bundy led a series of tense protests against the hospitalization of one of his associate's infant grandkids who state social workers said was malnourished. According to court documents, protesters, some armed, tried to force their way into the hospital's locked exits. Some held "wanted" signs naming individual doctors and nurses and even blocked an ambulance entrance as car horns blared.
At the trial, the hospital's security director, Abbey Abbondandolo told the jury that he ordered a security lockdown and diverted all incoming ambulances to other hospitals because he feared Bundy and his militia followers were close to taking over the hospital and carrying out a "Pizzagate" style attack.
"This is not just a guy going rogue. He's like a military leader who's able to coordinate actions and mobilize people on different fronts," Abbondandolo said.
The jury trial offered a window into the dark world of far-right extremism, with intimidation and threats being directed at top officials even in one of the most conservative states in the nation.
Ammon Bundy, who ran for governor in Idaho in 2022, receiving some 90,000 votes, routinely attacks the state's Republican leaders, including its conservative governor, on social media. Bundy and his followers frequently spread Q Anon conspiracy theories that St. Luke's and its staff who cared for the infant grandson were part of a global child sex trafficking cabal.
Meanwhile, it's unclear how much if any of the $50 million in damages, half of them punitive, will ever get paid. St Luke's says it plans to donate the money upon collection to one of its child health services organizations.
Bundy, who has defied a civil arrest warrant, appears to remain holed up in his home in a rural area outside Boise where he's been claiming erroneously that he has no assets left to be taken.
"People in a jury deciding how much St. Luke's is going to take from those who exposed the truth about them is a mockery to justice. When a baby is born he or she does not become property of the state or hospital executives," Bundy said in a tweet responding to the verdict.
This is just the latest legal drama for Bundy, who a jury actually acquitted in 2016 for leading a 41 day armed takeoverof a federal bird sanctuary in Oregon. Bundy has also been arrested for trespassing in the Boise area several times more recently, even leading to his being banned from the Idaho state capitol for one year.
"They are, to some degree, terrorists in the way that they're acting. And then he turns around and makes himself the martyr or the victim, which is just ludicrous," says Gary Raney, a retired sheriff in Ada County, Idaho's most populous.
Leading up to the civil trial, Raney was advising local law enforcement to wait things out and not immediately go in and serve the warrant. The local sheriff had warned earlier this year that Bundy was becoming increasingly aggressive toward his deputies.
Raney told NPR he thinks Bundy will get served soon but there's no rush while tempers are flaring.
"The predicament is just keeping the community safe over there with all these - I'll use the technical term - yahoos that are over living on Bundy's property, trying to protect him from who knows what," Raney said.
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