Officials Say Shots That Killed LaVoy Finicum Were Justified
Investigators with the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office and the Harney and Malheur County district attorneys declared Tuesday the shots that killed militant LaVoy Finicum were justified and “necessary."
Investigators also said that, despite complaints from occupiers and their supporters that police shot more than 100 times into the truck carrying Finicum and other militants, only eight shots were fired – six from the Oregon State Police and two by members of the FBI hostage rescue team.
The two shots fired by FBI officials will be the subject of another investigation, because the agents did not initially disclose firing at Finicum, investigators said at a press conference.
Law enforcement showed a cellphone video shot by Shawna Cox, who traveled inside Finicum's truck the day of the Jan. 26 shooting. Finicum can be heard on the video repeatedly ignoring commands from law enforcement to surrender. He's also heard insisting that officers shoot him.
"Mr. Finicum chose to break the law," said Greg Bretzig, the FBI special agent in charge of the refuge occupation.
Finicum was hit with three bullets in the back, which were all fired by Oregon State Police troopers. Those were justified, investigators said.
The shooting took place along Highway 395 between Burns and John Day. Finicum was en route to a meeting in John Day, along with Ammon and Ryan Bundy, Ryan Payne and several other of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupiers. The group was traveling to a meeting on the Constitution, where they expected to speak with Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer.
When law enforcement officials stopped the convoy carrying the militants, Cox began recording on her phone. Investigators were able to sync law enforcement footage taken from an FBI plane with Cox's cellphone footage.
During the press conference, the officials played the footage, which showed Finicum, Cox, Payne and Ryan Bundy refusing commands by law enforcement to stop and get out of their vehicle.
At one point in the video, Finicum told Oregon State Police to back down. Finicum said he was going to meet Sheriff Palmer and prompted officials to "go ahead and shoot me" if they wanted stop him.
After a few minutes of discussion inside the vehicle, Finicum took off from the stop. He approached a roadblock approximately one and a half miles down the road while traveling 70 mph, officials said Tuesday.
Finicum swerved off the road near the roadblock, and nearly hit a law enforcement officer.
He then exited the vehicle with his arms raised and repeatedly told police "you're going to have to shoot me." Investigators said Finicum had a loaded 9 mm semi-automatic handgun in the left inside pocket that he reached for three times before being shot.
The Central Oregon Major Incident team led the investigation. At the request of Harney County District Attorney Tim Colahan, Malheur County District Attorney Daniel Norris also reviewed the investigation, officials said.
At an earlier press conference, the FBI announced that agents found three other loaded weapons inside the truck that Finicum had been driving. They included two loaded .223-caliber semi-automatic rifles. There was also one loaded .38-caliber special revolver.
Finicum's eldest daughter, Thara Tenny, has asked for a separate investigation into the shooting.
“We are calling for a private, independent investigation to find out exactly what happened to our dad in an ambush on a lonely desolate stretch of highway in the dead of winter in eastern Oregon,” said Thenny, following Finicum's Feb. 5 funeral in Kanab, Utah.
Finicum's wife, Jeanette, released a statement Tuesday following the investigation's press conference.
"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," she said.
"Many people including my lawyers, have tried to prepare me for this — 'be strong,' 'accept this with peace' — but I don't think anything could prepare me to accept what is so clearly a finding that challenges the Constitution that my husband died defending."
She said she plans to seek justice for her husband in “a different court, under different circumstances.” Members of the militia movement sometimes convene what they call citizen grand juries to investigate people. Those panels don’t have any legal authority.
The federal investigation, conducted by the Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General, will determine whether a member of the hostage rescue team failed to disclose firing at Finicum as he left the truck and whether anyone participated in a cover up over those shots.
In a press release Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, said he was "disturbed and bewildered" by the revelation of the two unaccounted for shots by FBI agents.
Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting