Killing of Oregon refuge militant by police was justified, DA says

Claudia Cowan reports from Burns


The deadly January police shooting of the spokesman for an armed militia that had occupied an Oregon wildlife refuge was justified, officials said Tuesday; however, the actions of FBI agents during the incident remain under review.

Oregon State Police fired six of eight total shots during a Jan. 26 traffic stop that resulted in the death of rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, authorities said. The first three shots were fired at the truck Finicum was driving as it approached an FBI roadblock, and none of those shots struck Finicum or the other occupants of the truck. The final three shots fired by police were the fatal ones, all of which struck Finicum in the torso after he had left the truck and appeared to be reaching into his jacket near the area of a gun.

“Of the eight shots fired, the six shots fired by the Oregon State Police were justified, and, in fact, necessary,” Malheur County District Attorney Dan Norris said.

Two other shots – neither of which hit Finicum – were fired by FBI Hostage Rescue Team agents. Those agents, however, allegedly did not disclose their role in the incident during the subsequent investigation. They are currently the subject of an ongoing investigation by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Justice and Deschutes County.

Officials at Tuesday’s news conference played synched videos of the encounter, one taken by an occupant of Finicum’s truck and the other recorded by an official aerial vehicle, which showed the final, anxious moments of Finicum’s life.

Finicum and other members of the militia had been on their way to a public meeting Jan. 26 when Oregon State Police pulled the group’s two trucks over, intent on arresting several members for the illegal occupation. The occupants of one of the vehicles, including the militia’s leader, Ammon Bundy, complied. Finicum and two other people in his truck did not.

At one point, Finicum can be seen and heard leaning out the driver side window yelling, “You can go ahead and shoot me” and “Okay boys, this is gonna get real. You want blood on your hands?”

Eventually, Finicum takes off from the traffic stop, driving at a reported 70 mph as he approaches a roadblock set up a little more than a mile from the initial stop. Finicum yells “hold on” as he tries to veer into the snow and steer around the roadblock, nearly hitting a police officer in the process. But Finicum ultimately crashes into a 3-foot high snowbank and the truck comes to a stop.

“Under Oregon law, Mr. Finicum was using his truck as a dangerous weapon,” Norris said.

Finicum then exited the vehicle, ignoring three commands by police to lie down on the ground. Though Finicum has his hands out for most of the brief encounter, he reached with his right hand toward his left jacket pocket three times. Police later found a 9-mm. handgun in that pocket. Officers had also been told to expect that Finicum would be armed with a pistol.

The first two times Finicum reached near his jacket officers held their fire. But the third time, two officers fired the shots that killed him. At the time, an Oregon trooper was attempting to get near enough to Finicum to use a Taser to apprehend him by non-lethal means.

“[The cops] believed he was reaching for a handgun and believed he was about to use deadly force against them of the trooper armed with a Taser,” Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson said.