Indications of FBI Misconduct in Shooting of Oregon Militiaman
At least one member of the FBI's elite Hostage Rescue Team lied to Oregon authorities investigating the death of Lavoy Finicum, a militiaman who took part in the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that ended last month.
The unnamed agent told investigators that he did not fire his weapon. But subsequent examinations of the truck revealed that the agent fired at least once and possibly twice.
Local authorities are being tight-lipped about the investigation into the agent's actions. But they have informed the U.S. attorney and the Portland FBI office, and have met with FBI authorities in Washington about their investigation.
Investigators from the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office could account for bullet holes in the left front hood, the driver's side mirror and the front grille. They came from the automatic weapon of a state trooper who had fired three times at the truck as Finicum raced at 70 mph toward a police roadblock on Jan. 26.
The angle of a fourth bullet hole didn't match the others.
An elaborate computer analysis, a review of the FBI aerial video of the shooting scene and a video from a passenger in Finicum's pickup produced a result that startled the team poring over evidence into Finicum's fatal shooting that day.
The fourth round, police concluded, was fired by an FBI agent who subsequently twice denied to investigators ever firing his gun. As the investigation proceeded, detectives determined he also fired a second time, but didn't hit anything at the scene.
The discovery of that gunfire and conduct afterward by the agent and four other agents have triggered a criminal investigation that could result in the prosecution of all five. The agents all serve on the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team. Authorities on Tuesday released few details about the matter and didn't identify the agents by name.
But the disclosure is a jolt to the FBI. The Oregon investigators two weeks ago flew to Washington, D.C., to directly brief top FBI officials about their findings. The U.S. Justice Department's Office of Inspector General is now investigating along with the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office. The Inspector General's Office, which is separate from the FBI, doesn't discuss active investigations.
As the 41-day takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge unfolded, the violent outcomes of standoffs at Idaho's Ruby Ridge and in Waco, Texas, were on the minds of law enforcement, occupiers and self-styled militia. No one wanted to trigger a confrontation similar to those events, which resulted in the deaths of civilians and led to harsh criticism of federal agents.
Detectives investigating the Finicum shooting questioned the five FBI agents at least twice, including the night of the shooting. Such questioning is standard for officer-involved shootings.
A separate investigation ruled that the shooting was justified. But the five agents are now under criminal investigation:
An FBI agent is suspected of lying about firing twice at Robert "LaVoy" Finicum and may have gotten help from four other FBI agents in covering up afterward, authorities revealed Tuesday.
The bullets didn't hit Finicum and didn't contribute to his death, but now all five unnamed agents, part of an elite national unit, are under criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department. Inspector General Michael Horowitz is leading the independent inquiry.
The remarkable disclosure came as a team of local investigators released findings that two state troopers shot Finicum three times in the back during the chaotic scene at a police roadblock Jan. 26. One bullet pierced his heart, an autopsy showed.
A prosecutor ruled the fatal shooting was legally justified, saying state law allows use of deadly force when officers believe a person is about to seriously injure or kill someone. Finicum kept moving his hands toward a pocket that contained a loaded handgun. Although he was shot from behind, Finicum had a trooper in front of him armed with a Taser who was thought to be in danger.
What this video shows is the FBI has learned very little since Ruby Ridge. Note the firing into the car after Linicum has already been killed. There are women in that car, which may be one reason the agent lied about firing his gun. He, too, remembers Ruby Ridge.
Investigators at Ruby Ridge later found that federal agents lied about the series of events that led to two innocents dying. In this case, the lie quickly became a conspiracy to cover up the truth. It will probably result in serious jail time.