FBI agents involved in the traffic stop that led to the killing of one of the armed occupiers of an Oregon wildlife refuge are under investigation for not disclosing they fired shots that missed Robert “LaVoy” Finicum.
An elite FBI hostage-rescue team is under investigation after officials said they have been unable to determine exactly who shot at Oregon occupier Robert “LaVoy” Finicum during a fatal showdown in January.
Officials said Tuesday that Oregon State Police troopers were justified when they fatally shot Finicum on Jan. 26 as state and federal law enforcement sprang a trap on the leaders of a lengthy armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore.
But investigators also revealed Tuesday that they have not been able to account for all the shots fired during the incident, which has led the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General to open an investigation into the FBI agents at the scene.
The development is likely to inflame supporters of the armed group, which had taken over the refuge Jan. 2 to protest the federal government’s administration of public lands and the prosecution of two local ranchers.
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During the traffic stop, Finicum, who had previously hinted at his willingness to die for the armed protest, sped away after law enforcement pulled him over.
Officials revealed Tuesday that Oregon state troopers had fired at Finicum’s truck three times as he then approached a law-enforcement roadblock “at a high rate of speed” and nearly hit a law-enforcement officer.
After Finicum drove into a snowbank and the vehicle came to a halt, he got out of his truck almost immediately and troopers fired three more times, fatally wounding Finicum as he allegedly reached for his handgun, according to officials.
“All six shots fired by the Oregon State Police, the three into the truck and the three that struck Mr. Finicum, are justified,” Malheur County District Attorney Dan Norris said in a statement.
While the findings are a relief to the local troopers, the FBI agents on the scene face serious questions — along with new investigations into their role by both local and federal officials.
Investigators found evidence indicating that a member of the FBI team had fired a bullet that hit the truck as well as a second shot that missed Finicum as he exited the truck. The FBI agent’s identity is still unknown to investigators.
On three separate occasions, the evening of Jan. 26 and again on Feb. 5 and 6, the FBI team failed to tell state investigators about those two shots, as well as “specific actions” they took after the shooting, according to Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson.
When investigators learned last month of the agents’ failure to disclose their full role, investigators in Washington, D.C., were immediately summoned to Oregon to begin probing possible impropriety, officials said.
Greg Bretzing, the special agent in charge of the Oregon office, declined to say Tuesday whether any of the FBI agents involved in the episode had been placed on leave. “The question of who fired these shots has not been resolved,” he said.
These revelations may continue to fuel debate about Finicum’s death.
An aerial video released in January of the fatal shooting showed Finicum speeding away from an initial effort to pull him and his passengers over, then careening into a snowbank after he tried to run a roadblock.
The video showed Finicum getting out of the car, initially with his hands up, then reaching several times for his left side before getting shot three times by Oregon state police. The state investigators’ disclosure of the FBI shots fired as Finicum exited the truck raises the possibility that they occurred during the time when he had his hands in the air.
The armed occupation of the refuge ended Feb. 11 after the final holdouts surrendered to the law-enforcement officials who had surrounded them.
The refuge has since become a sprawling crime scene as the federal government prosecutes dozens of men and women with felony conspiracy charges in connection to the occupation and to a similar showdown with federal officials in Nevada in 2014.