An FBI agent indicted on charges of making false statements about his actions in the death of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge protest spokesman Robert LaVoy Finicum at a roadblock in Eastern Oregon has entered a “not guilty” plea in federal court in Portland, the Associated Press reported.
Finicum was killed in late January 2016 after driving his pickup truck into a snowbank, possibly to avoid colliding with vehicles at a roadblock. He was fatally shot by Oregon State Police, but there was allegedly some evidence that FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita fired two shots that did not hit Finicum. Subsequently, according to the allegations, Astarita did not disclose that he fired the shots.
According to the Portland Oregonian, the indictment came “after the inspector general of the U.S. Justice Department last year began investigating possible FBI misconduct and whether there was a cover-up.”
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Finicum had a high profile role in the armed takeover of the wildlife refuge headquarters several miles southeast from Burns. Several people including Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy occupied the refuge as a protest against federal land management policies, one part of a larger movement that has been called the “Sagebrush Rebellion.” The occupation became a cause celeb for western conservatives and some anti-government activists, and when Finicum was killed, he became a martyr for their cause.
YouTube video posted by the Portland Oregonian:
Authorities said Finicum was allegedly reaching for a concealed gun after the crash. They reportedly found a semiautomatic pistol inside his coat. The shooting along Highway 395 was investigated by the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Department.
Last year, Ammon and Ryan Bundy and other protesters arrested and charged in the occupation were acquitted of weapons and conspiracy charges, the Oregonian noted. A second trial for four other defendants resulted in “split verdicts,” the newspaper recalled. Two of the occupiers, Jason Patrick and Darryl Thorn, were convicted of conspiracy and others were convicted of property crimes. Eleven other defendants entered guilty pleas, the newspaper said.
But the slaying of Finicum was followed by claims that he was deliberately targeted for murder by federal law enforcement for his high-profile part in the occupation. He was at the wheel of a truck that was accompanying other protest participants to a meeting in Oregon’s Grant County. He drove away from one traffic stop and then crashed into the snowbank farther up the highway at the roadblock.
The Oregonian provided a link to court papers outlining the charges. There are three counts of making false statements and two counts of obstruction of justice.
Finicum’s wife is reportedly planning a lawsuit against the FBI and Oregon State Police for alleged civil rights violations.
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