Conflicting accounts from people claiming to be eyewitnesses to the incident that resulted in rancher and Oregon wildlife refuge occupier LaVoy Finicum’s death emerged on social media Wednesday.
Mark McConnell, who hasn’t been identified previously as a member of the group occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, posted a video to Facebook in which he alleged that Finicum “charged” law enforcement officers when they tried to arrest him Tuesday evening. Finicum was one of two militants shot during the arrest of several standoff leaders on a remote stretch of eastern Oregon highway. Finicum was the only person to die in the incident.
McConnell, who said he was present when the incident began but didn’t witness the shooting itself, based his account on what he heard from two other militia members who were arrested in the confrontation. It was not immediately clear how or when McConnell spoke with the two other militia members.
Victoria Sharp, who said she was traveling with the group because her family planned to sing at the community meeting where they were supposed to meet the local sheriff, painted a very different picture of the shooting in audio posted to YouTube. Sharp alleged that law enforcement fired on Finicum both when he had his hands in the air and after he hit the ground. She said she witnessed the shooting with her own eyes.
Finicum has already been portrayed as a martyr by supporters of the standoff, and the circumstances of his death have been hotly disputed.
A statement issued late Tuesday by the FBI and the Oregon State Police detailing the arrests made in the confrontation did not mention McConnell or Sharp. McConnell said that law enforcement took him and an 18-year-old girl whom he declined to name in for questioning separately from the militia members named in that statement, whom he said were taken to a federal facility in Portland. McConnell said he was released after authorities impounded his vehicle and his weapons.
TPM was unable to confirm either account. The Harney County Sheriff’s Office referred TPM to the statement issued by the FBI and Oregon State Police, and law enforcement have yet to publicly offer an account of Finicum’s shooting.
In McConnell’s telling, the group was divided between two vehicles when they came across the authorities. He said he drove one car along with Ammon Bundy and Brian Cavalier, who he referred to by his nickname “Buddha.” (Cavalier has also been referred to at times during the standoff as “fluffy unicorn.”) McConnell said Finicum drove another vehicle along with Ryan Bundy, Ryan Payne, Shauna Cox and the 18-year-old girl.
McConnell said that after the authorities secured the three passengers in his vehicle, he saw one person exit Finicum’s vehicle from the passenger side and be handcuffed. At that point, he said he saw Finicum drive off in his truck with the other passengers who were still inside.
McConnell said he did not see the shooting itself. He pieced together an account of the shooting from conversations he said he had with Cox and Payne, who were both in the vehicle with Finicum after he drove away from law enforcement. McConnell cautioned that Cox changed her story a couple of times, adding and subtracting details.
According to McConnell’s account of what Cox said, Finicum exited his truck and charged at law enforcement after the vehicle got stuck in a snowbank near a roadblock. McConnell said Payne concurred that Finicum charged law enforcement.
“He was not on his knees. He was not — he was none of that nonsense. That was a miscommunication on somebody else’s part,” McConnell said. “But he went after them. He charged them. LaVoy was very passionate about what he was doing up here.”
Sharp’s account of the shooting, the audio of which was posted to YouTube, differs substantially from McConnell’s. The person who Sharp was speaking to on the audio didn’t identify himself. He said he was recording Sharp’s testimony because “if anything happens to you I think it’s really important to have that.”
In Sharp’s telling, law enforcement began shooting at Ryan Payne when he leaned his out of the window of Finicum’s truck and tried to tell the authorities that there were women in the car. She said Payne then got out of the car, but Finicum kept driving.
Sharp said that law enforcement “were riddling the car with bullets” when Finicum’s truck crashed into a snowbank. Finicum then exited the vehicle and issued a verbal challenge to the authorities, she said.
“He got out of the car and he had his hands in the air. He’s like, ‘Just shoot me then!’ And they did. They shot him dead,” she said.
“I saw it. I swear to God, just walking with his hands in the air. They just shot him,” she added. “They shot him dead and then after he was down on the ground they shot him three more times.”
Sharp further alleged that law enforcement kept firing on and “gassing” the rest of the passengers in the truck for five to ten minutes after Finicum was shot. She said Ryan Bundy was hit in the shoulder during that time. (McConnell offered no information on how Ryan Bundy came to be shot).
While she said some of the passengers in the vehicle had sidearms with them, Sharp insisted “no one ever touched a gun” or fired a shot during the confrontation.
“We showed no aggression at all,” she said.
Listen to Sharp’s account below, followed by McConnell’s account:
Posted by Mark McConnell on Wednesday, January 27, 2016