PNP comment: This is not too bad of an article for the typically-left OregonLive. But, it does need to be remembered that Ryan Bundy still has a bullet in his arm and he was sitting in the passenger seat of the vehicle. It is now believed that LaVoy left the vehicle to draw FBI sniper fire away from those who were in the vehicle. — Editor Liz Bowen
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BEND – 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.
Finicum, 54, an Arizona rancher, was one of the leaders of the Jan. 2 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns.
Investigators gave no details to explain why the one FBI agent, a member of the Hostage Rescue Team, wouldn’t report the two shots. They also didn’t indicate what his four colleagues did to warrant investigation other than saying it was related to conduct after the shooting.
“The question of who fired these shots has not been resolved,” said Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI in Portland. The federal agency is cooperating with the inspector general’s investigation, he said at a news conference.
The revelation is certain to inflame suspicions about Finicum’s death and shake confidence in the FBI, which came under intense fire for botched handling of violent sieges at Ruby Ridge in Idaho and Waco, Texas.
Some supporters have claimed Finicum was shot while surrendering, that he was unarmed and that he was shot nine times. The sheriff in neighboring Grant County, Glenn Palmer, described the police operation as an “ambush.”
Finicum’s family said in a statement a month ago that he was “executed in cold blood” and accused police agencies of deliberately misleading the public about what happened. His widow, Jeanette Finicum, didn’t retreat from that stance after watching the news conference.
“My husband was murdered,” she said in a statement.
The attorney for Ammon Bundy, the occupation’s now-jailed leader, found the news of the FBI shots troubling.
“I’m going to have to go back and reconsider all the conspiracy theories that I’ve written off,” said the lawyer, Mike Arnold.
Investigators had planned to release police reports, interview transcripts, photographs, the autopsy report and new video to allow the public to evaluate the police findings in Finicum’s death.
But they ended up releasing only one video and 19 photographs, citing the new criminal investigation for the change in plans. They also withheld the names of the involved troopers and FBI agents, saying they’ve tracked up to 80 threats against them, mostly on social media.
Document: Text of announcement of findings
The shooting happened after police stopped a Jeep and a pickup carrying the key figures of the occupation along a remote stretch of U.S. 395 north of Burns.
Finicum was driving the truck that carried carried Ryan C. Bundy, 43, Ryan W. Payne, 32, Shawna Cox, 59, and Victoria Sharp, 18. In the Jeep behind them was driver Mark McConnell, 37, Brian D. Cavalier, 44, and Ammon Bundy, 40, the public face of the occupation. They were bound for a community meeting 100 miles north of the refuge in John Day.
Officer statements and cellphone video taken by Cox from inside the truck showed that Finicum repeatedly ignored police orders, first at the traffic stop and then after he crashed trying to elude officers. He nearly ran over an FBI agent before stalling in a roadside snowbank.
What happened in just seconds after that crash could lead to criminal charges against the FBI agents.
Cox’s video showed that one shot hit the truck’s left rear passenger window as Finicum stepped out. At the time, Finicum appeared to have his hands at least at shoulder height.
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