Shooting of activist during Oregon standoff ruled justified; FBI eyed for story inconsistencies

By Doug G. Ware  |  March 8, 2016 at 7:13 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 8 (UPI) -- State investigators have ruled that troopers who shot an activist to death during the 41-day standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge were justified in their actions, authorities said Tuesday.

Investigators had been looking into the circumstances surrounding the confrontation and shooting of Robert "LaVoy" Finicum in January -- three weeks into the Ammon Bundy-led takeover of the Malheur wildlife refuge in southern Oregon.

FBI agents and Oregon state troopers monitoring the refuge said they formulated a plan to allow several members of Bundy's militia to leave the sanctuary on Jan. 26 in two separate vehicles. The members were headed to a meeting in Grant County, where Bundy was scheduled to speak.

Once the vehicles were away from the refuge, however, authorities performed a traffic stop of the vehicles on U.S. Highway 395. Occupants of the first vehicle surrendered without incident, officials said, but Finicum's truck sped off -- and became stuck in a snow bank moments later after trying to run a roadblock.

Refusing authorities' orders to surrender, investigators claim, the 54-year-old Finicum was shot after he appeared to reach for a weapon in his pocket. After the shooting, a loaded handgun was indeed found in Finicum's pocket, investigators said.

Malheur County District Attorney Dan Norris said Tuesday they determined that Finicum's shooting was justified and "necessary" under the circumstances because the law enforcement officers feared for their safety.

"It was not the outcome that any of us wanted, but one that he alone was responsible for," Tim Colahan, Harney County's district attorney, said Tuesday.

Investigators, however, will conduct a separate investigation into the actions and statements of the FBI agents involved in the gun fight.

Activist LaVoy Finicum holds a surveillance camera purportedly placed by the FBI near the Malheur National Wildlife Reserve on January 15, 2016 in Burns, Oregon. Finicum died on Jan. 26, during a confrontation with Oregon state troopers and FBI agents that turned into a short gun battle. File photo by Jim Bryant/UPI

Authorities' conclusion regarding the troopers' actions is reportedly based partly on video footage taken during the confrontation, during which Finicum is reportedly seen taunting officers and saying, "go ahead and shoot me. You're going to have to shoot me" after he exited the truck.

Finicum's family responded Tuesday by criticizing officials' determination that troopers acted lawfully when they shot Finicum three times.

"I can hardly believe that a team of qualified law officers could look at the facts in this case and say that no criminal laws were violated," Jeanette Finicum said. "How could they have reached this decision in the face of evidence that clearly shows intent to kill my husband?"

She also said Finicum was not armed during the ordeal and was trying to surrender when he was shot.

"He had more faith in the government than that, but clearly he was mistaken," she added.

Regarding the FBI's involvement, Sheriff Shane Nelson said he had concerns that agents "did not disclose their shots to investigators" afterward on two separate occasions. If the FBI agents did fire any shots, officials said none struck Finicum.

The federal inquiry will be conducted by the office of Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz and the United States attorney's office in Oregon.

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