ST. GEORGE — State troopers were justified in fatally shooting Robert LaVoy Finicum, officials said Tuesday before announcing FBI agents involved in the encounter were being investigated for firing additional shots and refusing to report them. Finicum’s family responded to the official findings Tuesday afternoon.
Finicum was hit by three rounds fired by Oregon State Police troopers Jan. 26 when FBI agents and troopers moved to arrest the leadership of a group that seized a federal wildlife refuge, Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson said at a press conference in Bend, Oregon, Tuesday morning.
A total of six shots fired by state troopers during the ordeal “were justified and, in fact, necessary,” because the troopers feared for their lives, Malheur County District Attorney Dan Norris said at the press conference.
While the bullets fired by FBI agents, who were part of the bureau’s Hostage Rescue Team, did not strike Finicum, Nelson said, the FBI agents refused to cooperate when questioned during two separate interviews. The Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) is an elite group that was participating in the law enforcement effort to arrest Finicum’s group as they traveled on an Oregon highway.
“Of particular concern to all of us,” Nelson said, “is that the FBI HRT operators did not disclose their shots to our investigators, nor did they disclose specific actions they took after the shooting.”
As a result, Nelson said the FBI’s actions are the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office. Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, said Tuesday that his office is also investigating the FBI agents’ actions.
Questions arose when Oregon State Police crime lab forensic scientists could not initially explain a bullet hole in the roof of Finicum’s truck, Nelson said, but eventually determined that the FBI was responsible for it.
“During the course of our investigation,” Nelson said, “we discovered evidence that an FBI HRT operator fired two shots as Mr. Finicum exited the truck and one shot hit the truck.”
Investigators were able to confirm the fired shots through video footage captured by Shawna Cox who was a passenger inside Finicum’s truck when the incident occurred.
Authorities released Cox’s video footage to the public Tuesday in which Finicum can be heard yelling “shoot me” to law enforcement as he was stopped for a time on the highway.
Finicum eventually took off down the road before coming to a law enforcement roadblock which he swerved to avoid, nearly hitting an agent, authorities said, before his truck eventually came to rest in a snowy bank.
When Finicum got out of his truck and walked toward an officer, authorities said he appeared to reach toward his jacket twice, where officials announced Tuesday they later found a loaded 9mm handgun.
Two troopers behind Finicum told investigators they opened fire on Finicum because they believed he was reaching for a gun, Nelson said. All three shots hit Finicum’s torso entering through his back.
Evidence and findings released Tuesday did not quell the anger of Finicum’s family or anti-government activists who continue to allege that Finicum’s death was part of an assassination during what they argue was a law enforcement ambush.
“It was an ambush with a roadblock placed on a blind curve along a lonely stretch of highway,” Finicum’s wife, Jeanette, said Tuesday. “I am told that in law enforcement and prosecuting circles this is called a ‘Deadman’s blockade,’ and is designed to allow a ‘kill stop’ which is illegal.”
Following the press conference in Oregon, Finicum’s family held a press conference on the steps of the Washington County Administration Building in St. George where Jeanette Finicum said the report of the investigation regarding her husband’s death was expected and came as no surprise.
“The purpose of that announcement,” she said, “was for state and federal agencies to continue to lay the foundation of their legal case. However, they also continue to bring forward selective evidence.”
Jeanette Finicum said her family continues to assert that Finicum was shot with both hands in the air, a symbol of surrender, she said, adding that her husband was not reaching for a gun at the time of the first shot. The family maintains Finicum reached down to his left hip in reaction to the pain of having been shot.
“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?”
An independent investigator working with the Finicum family said the video of the incident released by the FBI “proves a set up assassination,” Jeanette Finicum said, adding that she didn’t believe anything could prepare her to accept the finding which she said clearly challenges the Constitution that her husband died defending.
“I know that, under the Constitution, the men who shot my husband to death while he was surrendering are entitled to due process of law,” she said, “but they are not entitled to walk free and not have to face the same legal process that is a barrier to you or to me? They shot my husband. They left him lying in the snowbank – no medical assistance, no charges, no arraignment, no preliminary hearing, no indictment and no trial by a jury.”
Jeanette Finicum said the only consolation she has is that “hundreds of thousands of Americans have seen and know the truth” and also believe her husband was murdered “intentionally, deliberately and with malice.”
After her husband’s funeral, Jeanette Finicum said, rallies began to spontaneously organize in many states and that organizers counted as many as 300 rallies that took place across the country in every state but Rhode Island.
“When Americans heard the details of this story and how these American patriots who have no criminal record and who have stood on the same interpretation of the U.S. Constitution as Justice Scalia have been treated,” Jeanette Finicum said, “the actions of law enforcement and the FBI have shocked the conscience.”
Finicum’s wife continued that Americans are outraged that men and women who have no criminal records and who “posed no threat during the protest in Oregon are being treated as mere animals.”
“My lawyer has assured me that we will seek justice in a different court, under different circumstances,” Jeanette Finicum said, “and I look forward to the day when these men do face a jury that is unbiased enough to return a fair verdict.”
After the Finicum family has had a chance to fully review the investigation’s findings, the family expects to comment further and provide a thorough analysis of those findings during a press conference they’ve scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Finicum family said they continue to maintain LaVoy Finicum’s innocence.
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