Federal Bureau of Investigation agent indicted on charges of lying about Robert "LaVoy" Finicum shooting

Oregon refuge standoff: FBI agent indicted for allegedly lying about shooting rancher
FBI agent indicted in Oregon refuge standoff shooting

30 June, 2017

An FBI agent has been indicted for his actions during the 2016 traffic stop where LaVoy Finicum was shot and killed, during the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Finicum was shot more than three weeks into a standoff at the Malheur refuge, a remote bird sanctuary almost six hours from the state's largest city.

FBI Special Agent W. Joseph Astarita, who was a member of the agency's hostage rescue team, pleaded not guilty in a Portland federal court to two counts of obstruction of justice and three counts of making false statements to investigators, the indictment unsealed Wednesday shows. The indictment also charges Astarita with two counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly misleading Oregon State Police officers about the two rounds. He pleaded not guilty to all counts and was released pending future court appearances. The 54-year-old Arizona rancher was facing an Oregon State Police trooper and reached for a loaded 9mm handgun in his pocket when he was shot three times, with one bullet hitting him in the heart. Astarita fired two shots also, missing Finicum.

"The actions of the FBI HRT team in this case damage the integrity of the entire law enforcement profession, which makes me both disappointed and angry", said Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson, whose department investigated Finicum's shooting. Investigators later revealed that one of the state troopers shot at Finicum's truck as it raced toward the roadblock. Investigators also believed the agent fired a second round, but missed.

Six weeks later, investigators with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice Inspector General and the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office said that the shots fired that day by the police were "justified and necessary". A jury trial has been set for August 29.

Finicum is seen getting out of the truck and walking through the snow with his hands up in surrender.

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The refuge took a violent turn on January 26 when Bundy and other key figures were arrested in on January 26 traffic stop outside the refuge that ended with police fatally shooting Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, 54, an Arizona rancher and an occupation spokesman.

Finicum's death spurred protests and conspiracy theories among occupation supporters.

"Right there. Put a bullet through it", he yelled, pointing to his forehead, according to a video that another member of the group filmed on her cellphone from the back seat of his truck.

Finicum was en route to a meeting at the John Day Senior Center when law enforcement officers attempted to stop his vehicle, which contained several passengers including Ryan Bundy.

Even before Finicum's death, the HRT had played a role in disastrous incidents - including the raids at Ruby Ridge in Idaho and Waco, Tex. - that were invoked by occupiers at the refuge.

"I think they just marked him for death", said Thornton, a refuge occupier who was never indicted.

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