FBI agent found not guilty of lying about gunshots fired at LaVoy Finicum

This Jan. 26, 2016, file photo taken from an FBI video shows Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, center, after he was fatally shot by police near Burns, Oregon. FBI Special Agent W. Joseph Astarita was found not guilty Friday, Aug. 10, 2018, of accusations that he lied about firing at Finicum when officers arrested leaders of an armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in rural Oregon. | Photo courtesy of the FBI via The Associated Press, St. George News

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A jury found an FBI agent not guilty Friday of obstructing an investigation into who fired two errant shots at a key figure in a group that seized an Oregon wildlife refuge in 2016.

W. Joseph Astarita, 41, displayed a slight smile when the jury returned its verdict after less than a day of deliberations. He left the courthouse without comment.

In this Jan. 5, 2016 file photo, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, center, a rancher from Arizona, talks to reporters at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore. | Associated Press photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Astarita was charged with making false statements and obstruction of justice after telling investigators he did not fire the shots that missed Robert “LaVoy” Finicum.

His attorneys, Robert Cary and David Angeli, stressed to jurors that no eyewitnesses saw Astarita fire his weapon, and there was no ballistic evidence linking a bullet to his rifle.

“We are grateful to the men and women of the jury who saw through a case that should have never been brought,” the lawyers said in a joint statement. “Joe Astarita is innocent and it was our privilege and honor to represent him.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Sussman declined comment after the verdict.

The verdict marked another high-profile loss for prosecutors in cases related to the Bundy family, which opposes federal control of public lands.

Ammon and Ryan Bundy plus five other occupiers were found not guilty of conspiracy and gun charges in a trial that ended two years ago.

Read more: Jury acquits Bundys and five other defendants charged with conspiring against the federal government

Earlier this year, charges stemming the Bundys’ armed standoff with government agents in Nevada were dropped.

U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams said he strongly believed the Astarita case needed to be tried.

“Our system of justice relies on the absolute integrity of law enforcement officials at all levels of government,” he said.

The errant shots came as Finicum left his pickup while authorities tried to arrest him at a roadblock on Jan. 26, 2016. Oregon State Police fatally shot Finicum seconds later – a killing that was deemed legally justified.

Read more: Fatal shooting of Finicum deemed justified, FBI agents being investigated, Finicum family responds

Investigators looking into the shooting were able to identify those responsible for six of the eight rounds fired that day. No one owned up to the other two. After an investigation, Astarita was indicted in June 2017.

Prosecutors said he was the only one who could have fired the shots. Their assertion was based on FBI aerial surveillance videos and forensic analysis tracing a bullet back to his position.

Finicum and other occupiers led by Ammon Bundy seized the refuge on Jan. 2, 2016, to protest the imprisonment of two Oregon ranchers who had set fires. President Donald Trump recently pardoned those men, Dwight and Steven Hammond.

On Jan. 26, the FBI learned that Finicum, Bundy and other key figures were leaving the refuge in two vehicles to meet with a sheriff sympathetic to their cause.

Police stopped the vehicles, and several people surrendered, including Ammon Bundy. But Finicum fled at more than 70 mph with Bundy’s brother Ryan and several others, authorities say.

Roughly a mile down the road, Finicum swerved to avoid a roadblock, nearly hit an FBI agent and careened into a snowbank. Three shots, none fired by Astarita, hit the pickup during the chaos. The two disputed gunshots rang out as Finicum emerged from his pickup and yelled, “Go ahead and shoot me!”

One bullet missed everything and was never recovered. The other struck the pickup and shattered a window.

Written by STEVEN DUBOIS, The Associated Press.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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  • bikeandfish August 13, 2018 at 1:54 pm

    Presumption of innocence applies to all. Will be interesting to see what twisted, lopsided logic Hyde applies to this case compared to his amigos the Bundy’s. I don’t know if justice was served in any of these cases but its clear none of these prosecutors proved their cases effectively.

    RadioWest had an interesting show last week that did a good job at detailing the complicated reality of the Bundy’s standoffs and the mishandling of the events by the feds. Rightfully, neither side comes away unscathed.

  • Mike P August 14, 2018 at 5:38 pm

    “Our system of justice relies on the absolute integrity of law enforcement officials at all levels of government,” Were screwed.

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