FBI agent indicted for making false statements in LeVoy Finicum shooting
An FBI agent has been indicted for making false statements about shooting at the truck being driven by Robert LeVoy Finicum, one of the leaders of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016.
Finicum, along with other leaders of the occupation, was driving to a community meeting a few miles from the refuge when FBI and state police set up a roadblock to stop them. Finicum sought to evade police and drove his truck into a snow bank.
At that point, it is alleged that two FBI agents fired at the truck, missing Finicum. He was later killed by state police.
After an investigation by the Department of Justice inspector general, it was determined that the FBI agent lied about firing at the truck and tried to cover it up.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Gorder Jr. revealed in court papers last June that a grand jury was reviewing the FBI actions. Gorder was explaining the government's desire to keep its memorandum about the inspector general's investigation out of the hands of defense lawyers representing other occupation leaders on federal conspiracy charges.
The FBI and state police had moved in on Ammon Bundy and other key figures as they were driving in two vehicles from the refuge to a meeting in John Day. Finicum initially stopped but then raced off from police, and less than a minute later swerved into the snow to avoid the roadblock set up by FBI and state police.
As Finicum left his truck, an FBI agent shot twice at Finicum, though none of the hostage team members admitted to discharging their firearms, the Deschutes County sheriff alleged. The county sheriff's office was tasked with investigating the Finicum shooting.
The Oregon investigators concluded that one agent fired at Finicum's truck, hitting it in the roof and missing on the second shot. A state trooper later described to investigators seeing two rifle casings in the area where the FBI agents were posted. But detectives called to investigate didn't find the casings, police reports indicated.
Federal law prohibits "knowingly and willfully'' making any false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation or concealing information.
Less than two months after the shooting, the FBI acknowledged that a federal agent was under investigation for firing shots and four other members of his FBI team were under investigation for covering up the gunshots. The status of the investigation into the four other FBI team member is unclear.
There have been two federal trials of the occupiers. The first ended up with the Bundy brothers and five others acquitted of conspiracy and weapons charges. Another trial resulted in a split verdict.
Questions still surround the death of LeVoy Finicum. He was killed by state troopers when he allegedly reached inside his pocket. A gun was later recovered from the body. A suit pending in federal court by Finicum's family alleges that the state police used "excessive force" in taking the rancher down. A prosecutor had earlier cleared the state police of any wrongdoing:
"Mr. Finicum repeatedly and knowingly made choices that put him in this situation," said Harney County District Attorney Tim Colahan last March. "It was not the outcome that any of us wanted but one he, alone, is responsible for."
Mr. Finicum's "choices" may have been heavily influenced by the shots fired at his truck by the FBI agent.
The district attorney is right: it was not an outcome anyone wanted. The incident resulted in a black eye for the state police and the FBI. It could have been handled better and wasn't.