Federal Bureau of Investigation agent indicted on charges of lying about Robert "LaVoy" Finicum shooting
- Author: Joey Payne Jun 30, 2017,
Jun 30, 2017, 0:43
An FBI agent who allegedly lied to investigators about a fatal shooting during the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation has been identified.
FBI agent Joseph Astarita pleaded not guilty to five federal counts in a Portland courtroom Wednesday afternoon, accused of lying about firing two gunshots at LaVoy Finicum during the January 2016 deadly encounter on a highway north of Burns.
The bullets missed, but in the chaos that ensued, state police troopers fatally shot Finicum as he reached in his pocket, where he had a loaded handgun. Oregon State Police said two days later that they had fired the shots, and three more.
"The actions of the FBI (Hostage Rescue Team) in this case damage the integrity of the entire law enforcement profession, which makes me both disappointed and angry", said Deshutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson at a press conference on Wednesday. He and others had taken over a vacant building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in a protest against federal lands policy.
Finicum was reportedly killed by two state troopers who were found to be justified in shooting him in the back three times.
The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General in partnership with the United States Attorney's Office for the District of OR investigated the case.
It is not immediately certain if the indicted federal agent is on leave or was sacked.
The agent will reportedly "face allegations of making a false statement with intent to obstruct justice", sources told The Oregonian.
The FBI released footage of the shooting in the wake of Finicum's death to address rumors he was shot while cooperating with police. Stewart scheduled a one-week trial to begin August 29 in front of U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jones.
News about a federal inquiry into the shooting a year ago, as well as allegations that an FBI agent had lied about his role, fueled speculation among supporters of the refuge occupiers that Finicum had been unjustly shot during the operation, or that federal authorities had planned to kill leaders of the occupation all along.
Finicum was en route to a meeting at the John Day Senior Center when law enforcement officers attempted to stop his vehicle, which contained several passengers including Ryan Bundy.
Oregon State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation set up a roadblock along that road.
No FBI representatives were present as grim-faced state and federal officials discussed the actions of the FBI unit and the agency's response.
"I am grateful that they did indict him however there were other officers involved in the coverup", said Janette.
The office determined that one agent fired at Finicum's pickup truck, striking its roof and completely missing on the second firing.