FBI agents investigated over shots fired during death of Oregon occupier
Investigators discovered that members of an FBI hostage rescue team failed to disclose they fired two rounds at the scene during the shootout that killed one of the armed occupiers of an Oregon wildlife refuge.
Joe Kline/The Bulletin via AP
FBI agents involved in the traffic stop that led to the killing of one of the armed occupiers of an Oregon wildlife refuge are under investigation for not disclosing they fired shots that missed Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, authorities said Tuesday.
Oregon State Police troopers fired the three rounds that killed the Arizona rancher during a confrontation on a remote road, law enforcement officials said at a news conference in Bend.
An independent investigation by Oregon authorities found the troopers were justified in shooting Mr. Finicum because he failed to heed their commands and repeatedly reached for his weapon, Malheur County District Attorney Dan Norris said.
The investigators discovered members of an FBI hostage rescue team who were at the scene failed to disclose they fired two rounds.
As they looked into how many shots were fired during the confrontation and by whom, the investigators found a round in the roof of Finicum's truck.
"We could not explain the fourth shot into the roof of the truck, or its trajectory given the placement of the Oregon State Police troopers at the time," Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson said.
The US Justice Department's Office of Inspector General said it is investigating the FBI team's actions, working with Oregon officials.
During the news conference, Oregon officials played videos showing Finicum and others in his truck Jan. 26 during the initial stop by law enforcement. Finicum was driving one of two vehicles that were pulled over while carrying key occupation figures.
Video taken from the phone of one of his passengers shows the occupants panicking after authorities stop the truck.
With his window rolled down, Finicum shouts at the officers: "Shoot me, just shoot me! Put the bullet through me. Do as you damn well please."
After a conversation with others in the truck, Finicum drives off, leading authorities on a short chase. The song "Hold Each Other" by a Great Big World was on the vehicle's stereo.
Finicum was driving over 70 mph when the truck came to a roadblock, Sheriff Nelson said.
A trooper fired three shots at the truck as it approached because it was a threat to law enforcement, he said. The truck plowed into a snowbank. Finicum got out, and someone from the FBI team fired two more shots, Nelson said.
As Finicum stood in the snow, authorities told him multiple times to lie on the ground. Instead, he reached into the inside of his jacket. The troopers fired three rounds, all of which hit Finicum. A loaded pistol was found in his jacket pocket.
Oregon investigators said Finicum posed a threat to officers by nearly running over one of them at the roadblock, and by reaching for a gun.
Occupation members in the other vehicle, including leader Ammon Bundy, surrendered.
Finicum was a high-profile part of the weekslong standoff at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, launched Jan. 2 by a small armed group demanding the government relinquish control of public lands and objecting to the prison sentences of two local ranchers convicted of setting fires.
His death became a symbol for those decrying federal oversight, on public lands in the West and elsewhere, and led to protests of what they called an unnecessary use of force.
Finicum's widow, Jeanette Finicum, on Tuesday rejected authorities' conclusion that her husband's shooting was justified and said she is talking with attorneys about taking her family's fight to court.
Speaking to reporters in St. George, Utah, Mrs. Finicum said she believes her husband was shot with his hands in the air trying to surrender. She argued he was reaching to his side as a reaction to the pain of being shot.
Revelations that FBI agents at the scene failed to disclose their own shots may continue to fuel debate about Finicum's death.
"Now we know why a video with sound wasn't released immediately," said Lissa Casey, Mr. Bundy's attorney. "If it was, the public would have heard the shots that the government didn't want them to hear."
After Finicum's death and the arrests during the traffic stop, most occupiers cleared out of the wildlife preserve. A few holdouts extended the occupation to nearly six weeks before they surrendered Feb. 11.
Bundy and more than two dozen others with ties to the standoff have been charged with conspiracy to interfere with federal workers.
Finicum and his wife raised dozens of foster children, though social workers removed them from the couple's home a few days after the occupation began.
Finicum had said the foster kids were the family's main source of income.