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FBI agent charged with lying about LaVoy Finicum’s death in Oregon public-lands standoff

First Published      Last Updated Jun 28 2017 10:10 pm

Arizona rancher shot by troopers during standoff in Oregon.

An FBI agent faces five felony charges for lying about shooting at LaVoy Finicum moments before the rancher was killed by Oregon troopers.

On Wednesday, a federal grand jury in Portland indicted W. Joseph Astarita with three counts of making false statements and two counts of obstruction of justice, after investigators' discovery that members of an FBI hostage team did not disclose that they had fired two rounds at Finicum.

Astarita pleaded not guilty and was released on his own recognizance.

Jeanette Finicum has said she plans to sue the state police and the FBI for excessive force in killing her husband amid last year's armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

On Wednesday, she said she was "pleasantly surprised" by the grand jury's decision to charge Astarita, though she believes other officers conspired to impede the investigation.

"I am encouraged that they are holding this man responsible," she said.

LaVoy Finicum, a northern Arizona rancher whose funeral was held in Kanab, had emerged as the sanctuary occupiers' de facto spokesman before he was fatally shot by Oregon police in January 2016.

Police opened fire after LaVoy Finicum exited his truck at a police roadblock and reached toward a handgun that he kept in an inner jacket pocket.

Investigators determined that the troopers were justified in shooting LaVoy Finicum, but they noted that the FBI hostage agents hadn't mentioned the two rounds they fired as LaVoy Finicum exited the vehicle. The alleged cover-up was investigated by the inspector general of the U.S. Justice Department and the Oregon U.S. attorney's office. A jury trial is set for Aug. 29.

Jeanette Finicum said Astarita should "be treated just as fairly as every other citizen" and that she hopes he will be considered innocent until proven guilty. But there are "two standards of justice," she said.

"What strikes me is that everyone who was associated with the Oregon demonstration and Nevada standoff ... are in prison, guilty until proven innocent," she said.

Dozens of people, including leader Ammon Bundy, occupied the refuge about 290 miles southeast of Portland, from Jan. 2 to Feb. 11, 2016, to protest federal management of U.S. public lands and the conviction of Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond for setting fires on Bureau of Land Management property.

The occupiers were allowed to come and go for several weeks as authorities tried to avoid bloodshed seen in past standoffs at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

But authorities moved in on Jan. 26, when key standoff leaders left the refuge to attend a community meeting, pulling over two vehicles and arresting the occupiers inside.

LaVoy Finicum, 54, was driving his white pickup truck. Video taken by Kanab resident Shawna Cox showed the occupants panicking after authorities stopped the truck.

With his window rolled down, LaVoy Finicum shouted at officers: "Shoot me, just shoot me! Put the bullet through me."

LaVoy Finicum then sped off. He was driving more than 70 mph when the truck came to a roadblock and plowed into a snowbank.

Authorities say the FBI agent fired two errant shots as LaVoy Finicum left the truck. As he stood in the snow, authorities told him to lie on the ground. Instead, he reached toward his jacket, leading state troopers to fire three rounds, all of which hit him.

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