In 2005 and 2008, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), through the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Law Enforcement and Security, used two dozen federal agents with guns drawn to execute search warrants at the Custer Battlefield Museum, which is on private property owned by Christopher Kortlander, Executive Director of the Museum, near the site of the Battle of Little Big Horn in southern Montana, by surrounding the property, holding employees at gunpoint, and seizing hundreds of items on permanent display at the Museum.
In early August 2009, the U.S. Attorney wrote that, while it would “not be seeking prosecution in this case,” it would be “reviewing [the seized] items [to determine] whether they can be legally possessed by [Mr. Kortlander].” Twenty artifacts, which include a war bonnet, headdress, medicine bundle, and shield—all of which contain golden or bald eagle feathers—have not been returned allegedly because their possession is illegal under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
In April 2013, MSLF entered an appearance on behalf of the Museum. On June 21, 2013, MSLF and the United States filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Briefing of the motions was completed on August 16, 2013. On October 24, 2013, the district court denied the United States’ motion for summary judgment and granted MSLF’s motion for summary judgment holding that the United States bears the burden of proving that the seized property is derivative contraband.