Feds say Finicum shooting justified
March 16, 2016
The Oregon State Police troopers were justified in shooting and killing one of the protesters in Oregon, said a group of lawyers and law enforcement officers.
On March 8, 2016, representatives of the Department of Justice, Office of the U.S. Inspector General, a U.S. attorney, Shane Nelson, the Sheriff of Deschutes County, and others told the press in a news conference in Bend, Oregon, that the Deschutes County sheriff's office was asked to conduct an impartial investigation into the use of deadly force on Robert "Lavoy" Finicum. Deschutes County borders Harney County, home of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. One of the apparent leaders of the Oregon protest group that was focused on garnering attention for federal land management issues, Finicum was shot and killed Jan. 26.
A "major incident team" including forensic scientists and others helped with the investigation, Nelson said.
"Of the eight shots that were fired that day, six were justified," said the District Attorney. Six rounds were fired by the Oregon State Police (OSP) and two more apparently by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Of the six "justified" gunshots, three were fired at Finicum's vehicle as he approached the second roadblock. The other three hit and killed Finicum.
“Under Oregon law, Finicum was using his truck as a dangerous weapon. They believed he was reaching for a handgun and was about to use deadly force on them.” Shane Nelson, Deschutes County sheriff
The two rounds that were not justified, were likely fired by FBI agents who originally denied firing any shots. The shots were fired as Finicum exited the pickup. One went through the hood of the pickup; it is not known where the other ended up.
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The FBI operators also did not disclose "actions they took after the shooting," said the sheriff, and are the subject of an ongoing investigation, said several of the officials. It is not known which FBI employees fired the two "unjustified" shots, said Sheriff Nelson.
"Under Oregon law, Finicum was using his truck as a dangerous weapon," said the sheriff in the news conference, which justified the three shots at the vehicle itself. He also said that the OSP was reasonable in believing Finicum would injure or kill law enforcement with his pickup, further justifying their gunshots.
The other three shots fired by OSP were the shots that killed Finicum. They were justified because Finicum reached toward the area (his left side) where a gun was found, said the sheriff. While there is no audio to accompany that portion of the video, the sheriff said that Finicum refused to get on the ground after being instructed to do so by OSP. Two officers shot Finicum after he reached toward his left side for the third time, says the sheriff. "They believed he was reaching for a handgun and was about to use deadly force on them," Nelson said. The troopers had been briefed and expected Finicum to be carrying a gun on his left side.
An image displayed in the press conference showed that the medical examiner concluded that three bullets entered Finicum – one in the waist area, and two in the shoulder. Both shooters shot from behind.
The district attorney went on to say that the occupants were instructed to get out of the vehicle. He added that they had an agreement to elude the police, a class A felony in Oregon.
Finicum was driving one of two vehicles headed from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where protesters had set up headquarters, to a meeting in John Day, Oregon, about 80 miles away. Ammon Bundy, who drove the other vehicle, surrendered at the first roadblock as did the others in his outfit. Finicum drove away from that stopping point and was stopped by a roadblock, swerving off of the road to avoid the roadblock, and getting stuck in the snow.
The special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon commented that Finicum "chose to put other people's lives in danger" and to "provoke a confrontation with law enforcement" which he said justified the use of lethal force.
During the news conference, a cell phone video taken by Shawna Cox, one of Finicum's passengers, revealed the back-and-forth between the protesters and law enforcement.
After being stopped the first time by OSP, Finicum can be heard yelling. "I'm going to meet the sheriff. You can do as you damn well please. You can go ahead and shoot me," he says, with his empty hands out the window. "You can come along with us. You can talk with us over there," he says. The other passengers, Cox, Ryan Payne, and Victoria Sharpe can be heard saying that they do not want to leave the vehicle either. Ryan Bundy had exited the vehicle before the video began.
"If you want a bloodbath, it's going to be on your hands," Finicum says, telling the law enforcement members over and over that he's "going to go see the sheriff." The passengers discuss the fact that they can't make phone calls due to a lack of service.
"Well if we duck, and you drive, what are they going to do, try and knock us out?" asks Cox in the vehicle.
Within a few minutes, Finicum decides to drive to his original destination. The others in the car can be heard talking about the lack of cell service. As shown on the FBI video released earlier, the Cox video shows the pickup stopping abruptly and getting stuck in the snow when Finicum swerves to avoid the law enforcement roadblock. Before the vehicle stops, three gunshots are heard. Finicum jumps out of the pickup when it stops, and more gunshots are heard. The passengers in the pickup are yelling "Stop!" "Did they kill him?" "Keep down." "Why are they shooting us?" The FBI overhead video is overlaid with the Cox video, showing that Finicum is, indeed, shot.
Several loud explosions that sound like gunshots are heard after Finicum is shot. Flash-bang grenades and projectiles were used to pressure the remaining passengers to leave the vehicle, said speakers at the news conference.
"Stop, please," the women in the pickup yell, and are also heard quietly praying several times. Soon it is apparent that gas is released in the vehicle as breathing suddenly becomes difficult. After several minutes, the passengers look for something to use as a "white flag" out the window. Lasers are being pointed at them, they say.
A couple of minutes later, Payne leaves the vehicle, followed by Sharpe, who cries "He's dead. Oh, he's dead."
While the video is cut short before showing any medical attention being given to Finicum, Nelson said medical aid was rendered to him after the last passenger surrendered, which took several minutes.
Attorneys did not give any indication as to when the investigation into the FBI shootings would conclude.
Finicum and those traveling with him had taken over the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon, Jan. 2, to protest poor management of federal lands, they said. Several in the convoy were arrested that day and several more in the days following. The occupation ended Feb. 11, with the last four protesters turning themselves in. The resentencing and imprisonment of Dwight and Steven Hammond, local ranchers, inspired the protest. The Hammonds are serving five year prison sentences for burning around 140 acres of BLM land.