Were police justified in shooting an Oregon occupier in the back? (+video)
Prosecutors say the shooting death of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupier Robert 'LaVoy' Finicum was justified by his actions, despite objections from his family.
Law enforcement officers responsible for shooting Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, a protester who was involved in the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, are under fire for their handling of the violent confrontation.
Two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who were at the scene of Mr. Finicum’s shooting death are under investigation for failing to disclose that they fired two shots at the man. And the shooting itself is being criticized by Finicum’s relatives, despite a county prosecutor’s assessment that the shooting was justified.
“The six shots fired by the Oregon State Police were justified and in fact necessary,” Malheur County District Attorney Dan Norris told reporters at a news conference in Bend, Ore.
Finicum was shot three times in the back on Jan. 26 during a confrontation between Malheur occupiers and law enforcement after being pulled over at a police stop. Driving a truck, Finicum eventually sped past the officers at the stop, who pursued, before arriving at another roadblock. Finicum crashed into a snowbank after three shots were fired because the truck was viewed as a threat to law enforcement, according to Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson.
Finicum then exited the vehicle and an FBI agent fired two more shots. He then yelled “you're going to have to shoot me” while repeatedly reaching into his jacket and was shot three times by troopers at the scene. A loaded pistol was found in his jacket.
Investigators say Finicum’s near collision with an officer at the roadblock and potentially reaching for his gun justified the shooting. Finicum’s widow, however, believes the situation unfolded differently.
“He was walking with his hands in the air. A symbol of surrender,” Jeanette Finicum read in a prepared statement St. George, Utah, on Tuesday. “We have talked with an independent investigator who has stated that the video provides a setup assassination.”
A newly synced video of the confrontation shows Finicum with his hands in the air before apparently reaching for something in his jacket, at which point an officer can be seen opening fire.
“Mr. Finicum repeatedly and knowingly made choices that put him in this situation,” Harney County District Attorney Tim Colahan said in a statement. “It was not the outcome that any of us wanted but one he, alone, is responsible for.”
The US Department of Justice on Tuesday announced that it would be investigating the FBI team responsible for the agents who failed to report their shooting.
The last occupiers of the Malheur refuge were arrested on Feb. 17 after a standoff of more than six weeks.
Material from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.