PORTLAND, Oregon — FBI special agent W. Joseph Astarita was indicted for misconduct involving the murder of Robert LaVoy Finicum, one of the occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Family members of rancher Finicum who was shot and killed by police during the 2016 armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge have sued the U.S. government, Federal Bureau of Investigation, state of Oregon and others claiming he was willfully "executed."
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Portland nearly two years to the day after Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, 54, was shot dead by Oregon State Police on Jan. 26, 2016, along a snow-covered road near the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
"As it turns out, he was deliberately executed by a pre-planned government ambush, after he had exited his vehicle with his hands up," the plaintiffs allege in their 48-page lawsuit.
Investigators determined that state troopers were 'justified' in shooting Finicum three times in the back after he exited his vehicle at a police roadblock, put his hands in the air and then reached toward a handgun in his inner jacket pocket.
A reported witness (who wishes not to be identified), told a reporter that she had pulled over to the side of the road at the scene of the shooting. She said officers continued to shoot at Finicum's white truck after Finicum had been shot. Several people were huddled together inside the truck, frighted, wondering if they would be shot by authorities.
"My god, those damn cops showed a complete disregard for human life. They acted like soulless criminals ready to kill someone, just to get even. I could hear them laughing as they looked at who they had killed, the body in the snow. If I had a gun I might have shot those ugly cops myself. I hated to see what I saw. It was horrible.
I always thought I should look up to the FBI. But I remember Ruby Ridge and this reminds me of it so much. They don't want to talk to me and I'm afraid to say my name because they would find some way to get even with me. These men we think are here to protect us are really just assholes who want to use their guns to kill someone. That's how they get their sex, little men with big guns." (statement from "witness" not confirmed.)
VIDEO OF INCIDENT
FBI AGENT LIED
The complaint compares the shooting of a Finicum to the high-profile shooting of a North Korean defector in November 2017. It notes that the North Korean man survived and made it across the border to a friendlier government on the other side.
"The story was captivating, because in the American psyche, the idea of being shot in the back by your own government for trying to cross a border is unthinkable," the lawsuit said.
It claims Finicum was shot "assassination style" while trying to cross from Harney County into Grant County for a meeting with a sheriff who was sympathetic to the ranchers' cause.
Dozens of people took over the remote refuge in southeastern Oregon from Jan. 2 to Feb. 11, 2016. They were allowed to come and go for several weeks as authorities tried to avoid bloodshed seen in past standoffs at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
But authorities moved in Jan. 26 when key standoff leaders left the refuge for a community meeting in neighboring Grant County, pulling over two vehicles and arresting the occupiers inside.
Finicum, 54, was driving one vehicle. Video taken by a passenger showed the occupants panicking after authorities stopped the truck.
With his window rolled down, Finicum shouted at officers: "Shoot me, just shoot me! Put the bullet through me."
Finicum then sped off, coming to a roadblock and plowing into a snowbank.
The complaint says more than a dozen current and former Arizona officials wrote a letter to Oregon's governor, asking her to conduct a more transparent investigation into what happened next.
"Defendant has refused," according to the lawsuit.
Agent Astarita "falsely stated he had not fired his weapon during the attempted arrest of Robert La Voy Finicum, when he knew then and there that he had fired his weapon," according to the indictment.
By failing to disclose that he had fired two shots during the attempted arrest of Robert LaVoy Finicum, Astarita acted with the intent to hinder, delay and prevent the communication of information from the Oregon State Police to the Federal Bureau of Investigation relating to the possible commission of a federal offense.
An objective outside observer of the video evidence might easily believe a murder was committed by agents of the FBI, that agents started shooting at Finicum as soon as he exited his truck, before he made motions interpreted as "reaching for a gun" that, in the minds of many, justified the shooting.
Those who insist Finicum's driving represented a mortal danger to the officers should note that he was no longer operating a motor vehicle at the time of the killshots.
Astarita might justifiably be held to account not only for lying about his actions, but also very likely unjustified attempted murder. Alas, the legal system disagrees on the second point.
A coverup by the FBI is highly suggested when no agents took responsibility for taking the shots and when investigators later could not find two shell casings that had initially been spotted at the scene.
Seven others earlier arrested by authorities, who actually went to trial for their crimes were acquitted last October.