Bullet hole on LaVoy Finicum’s truck traced to elite FBI team
Statement released by Deschutes County Sheriff co-berates reporting by Shasta Lantern
BEND – Something didn’t seem right about the bullet hole in the top of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum’s white Dodge pickup.
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 AR-15 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 what it said in a statement were “allegations of FBI misconduct.” The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office is separately investigating whether agents were justified in using deadly force that day.
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 — the night of the shooting and 10 days later. Such questioning is standard for officer-involved shootings.
The Hostage Rescue Team is among the FBI’s most elite outfits. The members have no other job but to work full time as a SWAT-style group, operating from the FBI base in Quantico, Virginia. The team is the FBI’s global resource for anti-terrorism operations, but it also is selectively deployed across the country to deal with hostage situations or other unique crises.
One investigator working on the task force pulled together by the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office reported that he had been told soon after the shooting that two state troopers and two FBI agents had fired. He said the FBI agents approached him later to say they hadn’t fired their weapons.
In separate interviews later that night, those two FBI agents and the other three on duty at the shooting scene said they hadn’t discharged their weapons and repeated these statements in a second round of interviews Feb. 5 and 6, investigators reported.
The second time, the agents insisted that an attorney be present and that they be given an opportunity to “reference their prior statements” if they were going to be asked questions they had already answered in the first interview.
“Of particular concern to all of us is that the HRT (Hostage Rescue Team) operators did not disclose their shots to our investigators or their superiors,” said Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson. “Nor did they discuss specific actions they took after the shooting, which are the subject of an ongoing investigation.”
Authorities haven’t described those “specific actions.”
Nelson said evidence about the agents’ conduct was presented to U.S. Attorney Bill Williams in Bend on Feb. 18. The next day, the evidence was shown to Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge of the Portland FBI office.
“Upon learning this, and given the FBI presence on scene, I immediately contacted our Inspection Division which notified the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General which is currently investigating this matter.” Bretzing said.
On Saturday, Feb. 20, agents from the Justice Department’s inspector general and the FBI’s Inspections Division traveled to Bend to review the evidence.
Nelson and Dan Norris, the Malheur County district attorney overseeing the shooting investigation, a week later traveled to brief top FBI officials in Washington.
Bretzing said Tuesday, however, that identifying who fired the two shots was unresolved.
Document: FBI statement
Upon learning this, and given the FBI presence on scene, I immediately contacted our Inspection Division which notified the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General which is currently investigating this matter.
Tim Colahan, Harney County district attorney who asked Norris to handle the shooting investigation, said that “we deserve to know that our law enforcement officers at the local, state and federal level act appropriately.”
With the indications of FBI misconduct, the Malheur takeover now carries echoes of Ruby Ridge, which resulted in scathing investigations of the FBI and the eventual conviction of an FBI official. The 1992 siege in Idaho started when police sought to arrest anti-government extremist Randy Weaver. His son and his wife were both shot to death during that operation, as was a U.S. marshal.
The resulting investigations into misconduct and mistakes forced the FBI to overhaul its policy for using deadly force and for how it investigates agent-involved shootings. It also prompted changes in the way the FBI deploys the Hostage Rescue Team.
The Justice Department investigated as did the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Government Information. Both found numerous problems with the FBI’s conduct during and after Ruby Ridge. The Senate committee cited a poorly executed search by the FBI for evidence, among other things.
“At least one important piece of evidence – a bullet – was removed and then replaced by FBI agents coordinating the search,” the committee found.
“Throughout the course of its many reports, the FBI accorded its own agents undue deference,” the report said. “Their stories were accepted at face value and were only rarely subject of probing inquiry.”
The committee urged public airings of government misconduct for accountability.
“If our government is to maintain – indeed, even deserve – the trust of the American people, it cannot fear or avoid the truth,” the committee said in its final report.
Statement of Arnold Law Firm, Defense for Malhuer Refuge Occupiers
ARNOLD LAW’S COMMENTS ON FBI COVER-UP
The public deserved to have the video, with audio and sound, released immediately after the shooting. Now we know why it wasn’t released: the public would have heard the shots that the government didn’t want it to hear. The government should not be afraid of the public asking questions. They should encourage it. Discourse, dialogue, and criticism of the government are the bedrock of democracy.
The post-shooting FBI press conference was all to prejudice the jury, which is exactly why attorneys need to be able to speak on behalf of their clients. The answer is more speech not less. There is no prejudice of a jury when facts are released that would be heard by the jury anyway. The FBI was picking and choosing those facts. That is wrong.
Now we know why the Government is seeking a protective order trying to gag Ammon Bundy from talking about discovery.
In State v. Oliphant, this Oregon case discusses a person’s right to use physical force against a police officer in self-defense during an arrest. In Oregon, a person’s right to use force in self-defense depends on a person’s own reasonable belief in the necessity for such action, not whether the force used or about to be used on him actually was unlawful. The key here is the defendant’s reasonable belief. If a reasonable person in Finicum’s position would have believed that the use or imminent use of force against him exceeded the force reasonably necessary to affect the arrest, then he was entitled to defend himself from that use of force, i.e., by grabbing for a weapon.
The mere voicing of frustration with the government coupled with an assertion of the lawful authority to defend oneself against attack, is not a threat. But shooting at a stopped vehicle is. Finnicum wouldn’t have known that it was a less-than-lethal round. They just perceived gunshots and fled.
If the Federal Government knew that this alleged cover-up was happening, why did the FBI continue to lead the investigation? Why didn’t they bring in Deschutes County to investigate the protest site? Grant County? ATF? Anyone but the FBI who was under criminal investigation themselves.