Authorities in Oregon have publicly revealed new information about the shooting of Oregon wildlife refuge standoff leader LaVoy Finicum at the hands of law enforcement that could have a major impact on the way the public views the entire confrontation that led to his death.
In announcing Tuesday that the fatal shooting of Finicum was justified, authorities also divulged that additional shots were fired in the incident, including two shots that were allegedly concealed by one or more FBI agents who are now under investigation.
The new information didn’t lead authorities to conclude the shootings were unjustified but it does help paint a clearer picture of what happened in the tense final moments before Finicum died.
Before Tuesday, the public knew (thanks to aerial footage released by the FBI of the incident) that Finicum had been stopped by law enforcement on a remote stretch of Oregon highway, that he drove his vehicle away from the scene, that he nearly hit a police barrier, stepped out of his vehicle, reached toward a weapon and was shot by Oregon State police.
But Tuesday, the public learned that in the course of the the deadly-force investigation it was discovered that the FBI had fired two additional shots during the incident and never reported them in interviews with investigators. As a result, the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team is now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office
“We look forward to working closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon, as well as state and local officials as we review this matter,” Department of Justice Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said. “Because our investigation is ongoing, we will be unable to provide any further information until it is complete. We will publicly disclose our findings at that time.”
According to Sheriff Nelson, the FBI team may have lied to cover up that the weapon was discharged. Neither of the FBI shots hit Finicum nor were they believed to have contributed to Finicum’s death. However, the mere existence of the two bullets changes the optics of the entire incident from a completely justified confrontation to a more complicated law enforcement interaction.
During the course of the investigation into the January shooting, investigators found that they could not account for the source a rogue bullet hole found in the roof of the truck Finicum was driving.
While the FBI released silent video footage of the shooting just days after Finicum was killed, new footage obtained during the investigation that had been shot from the backseat of Finicum’s vehicle added new insight into the police confrontation that led to Finicum’s death.
In the video, which was shot by fellow refuge occupier Shawna Cox, Finicum is defiant after initially being stopped by law enforcement. Finicum repeatedly tells officers he plans to go to the community of John Day, where he was scheduled to meet the Grant County sheriff and give a presentation alongside other occupiers. Finicum tells police “you back down or you kill me now. Go ahead, put your bullet through me.” Then, occupiers within the vehicle agree to drive away from police. After driving off at about 70 mph, Finicum eventually encounters a roadblock. An Oregon trooper fires three shots toward the vehicle in an attempt to make Finicum stop and Finicum swerves into a snowbank.
According to a transcript of the press conference, the investigators determined that the “first shot strikes the sideview mirror.” The “second shot hits the front of the truck ” and the “third shot hits the truck at [an] angle.”
At this point, Finicum exits the truck and it is around this time that investigators believe the FBI fired “two other shots.” Finicum is instructed to get on the ground. Finicum is heard saying on Cox’s video “go ahead and shoot me.”
According to the press conference, on the third time officers call for Finicum to get on the ground, ” Mr. Finicum grabs his jacket with his left hand and again reaches with his right hand into the area of his jacket where his gun was later found. The two Oregon State Police troopers behind Mr. Finicum, only one of whom you can see in the video, shoot a total of three shots, killing Mr. Finicum.”
The lawyer for standoff mastermind Ammon Bundy told the Oregonian that the news Tuesday changed the way he looked at the entire incident.
“I’m going to have to go back and reconsider all the conspiracy theories that I’ve written off,” Mike Arnold said.
Within moments after Finicum’s death was announced, sympathizers to the standoff sought to use Finicum’s final moments with law enforcement as a symbol of government overreach. The movement to make Finicum a martyr was almost instantaneous. In a statement following the shooting, Finicum’s family insisted Finicum had been killed “in cold blood.” Nevada state lawmaker Michele Fiore, who later played a key role in negotiating the end of the standoff, tweeted: “My heart & prays go out to LaVoy Finicum’s family he was just murdered with his hands up in Burns OR.”
My heart & prays go out to LaVoy Finicum’s family he was just murdered with his hands up in Burns OR.Ryan Bundy has been shot in the arm
— Michele Fiore (@VoteFiore) January 27, 2016
The fact that the FBI is now under investigation with regard to the shooting and the allegation that agents lied to cover up details of the confrontation may tarnish what had been seen as a shining example of how law enforcement can manage homegrown extremism with great restraint.
The official investigation also lends credence to the eyewitness accounts of 18-year-old Victoria Sharp who was in the vehicle and a later account from Cox who said the vehicle was being shot at when it approached the road block.
In a videotaped interview just days after the shooting, Sharp said that law enforcement agents “were riddling the car with bullets” as Finicum’s truck hit the snowbank.
Watch the full video released below, which was layered together by the Oregonian.