Last December, Ammon Bundy and armed militia members gathered in Burns, Oregon (about 280 miles southeast of Portland), to protest the jailing of local ranchers, father and son Dwight and Steven Hammond, for lighting fires on federal properties in 2001 and 2006 in order to scale back invasive plants and to protect their private lands from wildfires. (Ammon is the son of Nevada rancher Clive Bundy who had an armed standoff with federal authorities in 2014 over grazing rights. That matter was settled peacefully, after the Bureau of Land Management backed off and left the scene.)
After a peaceful rally in Burns, Ammon Bundy and the militia protesters took over a facility at the Mahleur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns.
On January 27, 2016, the feds put an end to the standoff by shooting dead Robert “LaVoy” Finicum multiple times at close range, and arresting other protesters, including:
- Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Brian Cavalier, Shawna Cox and Ryan Waylen Payne, who were arrested at a traffic stop on their way from Burns, Oregon, to a community meeting with ranchers in John Day, Oregon.
- Joseph Donald O’Shaughnessy (Captain O.) and Peter Santilli, who were arrested in Burns.
- Jon Ritzheimer reportedly turned himself into police in Peoria, Arizona.
(See “Oregon Standoff: Militia man killed; others asked to sign talent releases” and “FBI arrests Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, ending Oregon standoff“.)
Yesterday, March 9, 2016, county prosecutors ruled the killing of Finicum “justified and necessary” despite the fact he had been shot three times in the back.
Below is a tweet, by RT anchor/correspondent Simone del Rosario, of an autopsy report’s sketch showing three gun wounds on Finicum’s back:
Here are excerpts from Les Zeitz’s report for The Oregonian/Oregon Live of the dramatic events that led to Finicum’s death:
As Robert “Lavoy” Finicum powered his Dodge pickup over Devine Summit on the state highway north of Burns, he spotted the police van idling on a U.S. Forest Service road.
Finicum glanced over at the state trooper in the driver’s seat as he went past.
He pointed a finger at him, as if to say “I see you” and kept going.
That likely was the moment Finicum realized he and his group wouldn’t make the community meeting planned that evening in John Day.
Less than 30 minutes later, Finicum was dead and four other leaders of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge takeover were in handcuffs.
Police knew the leaders planned to travel to John Day in Grant County to the north on the only direct highway there – U.S. 395.
They devised a traffic stop by state troopers to allow FBI agents to arrest the group on federal conspiracy charges. By midday, some members of the arresting team positioned themselves on Forest Service Road 2820, which branches east off the state highway toward a snow park near the summit of Devine Ridge. Another team set up roughly two miles north on the highway, prepared to act as a roadblock.
“The sheriff is waiting for us,” Finicum yelled out the driver’s window to the officers and agents staged behind his truck.
He puts his hands out the window and invited police to shoot.
“Back down or you kill me now,” he said.
He repeated twice more that he was going to meet the sheriff.
Ryan Bundy, 43, of Mesquite, Nevada, seated behind Finicum with a .38-caliber pistol and two rifles within reach, yelled out the window: “Who are you?”
Finicum echoed him. “Yeah, who are you?”
“Oregon State Police” came the reply.
“I’m going over to meet the sheriff in Grant County,” Finicum said.
Police continued demanding Finicum turn off the truck and surrender, according to officer statements to investigators. But they didn’t move against those in the truck as they waited for a trooper posted at McConnell’s Jeep to bring a launcher with multiple pepper spray rounds.
Those in the truck talked about what to do next.
“If we duck and you drive, what are they going to do?” [Shannon] Cox asked Finicum. “Try to knock us out?”
He noted they still had “50 ass miles” to go to reach John Day. He turned up the volume on country music that had been playing on the radio.
“Who can we call?” Bundy asked.
“Sheriff Palmer,” Finicum responded.
As Bundy and Cox tried to get a cell signal, Finicum continued yelling at police.
“You want a blood bath?” he asked. “I’m going to be laying down here on the ground with my blood on the street or I’m going to see the sheriff.
[…] Finicum instantly stepped out of the truck, his hands out to his sides at about shoulder height. Investigators concluded that an FBI agent on the highway clipped off two shots, one that went wild and one that pierced the truck roof and shattered the left rear passenger window. A shell fragment struck Bundy in the shoulder.
The trooper who had made it to the tree line had drawn his revolver and now commanded Finicum to get on the ground.
“Go ahead and shoot me,” Finicum said.
“Get on the ground,” the trooper yelled back.
Finicum continued yelling “Shoot me” and “You’re going to have to shoot me.”
He turned his attention from the trooper in the woods to two troopers coming up behind him, including the one who had fired at the truck. As Finicum shifted direction, the trooper in the woods holstered his gun and drew out his Taser X2, which can be effective from 25 feet but works best at about 15 feet.
Finicum at least twice reached with his right hand toward the inside of his left jacket, where he had a loaded Ruger SR9 semi-automatic pistol that had been a gift from his stepson.
He then turned back toward the trooper approaching with the Taser. He again reached for his jacket.
“It was consistent with drawing a handgun,” the trooper with the Taser told investigators. “He’s going for a gun and I can tell you right now, uh, I was very uncomfortable.”
He continued ordering Finicum to stop.
“He had the drop on me at this point,” the trooper said.
One of the troopers who had been coming up behind Finicum saw the same motion – “consistent with grabbing a firearm” is how he described it to investigators.
“I need to take action to stop him from being a threat” to the trooper with the Taser, he later told investigators.
He fired two rounds, both striking Finicum in the back. At the same instant, another trooper nearby fired a single round into Finicum’s back.
[…] Fifty seconds after Finicum left his truck, the shooting was over.”
You can hear and see Finicum yelling to the police in the video below of cell phone footage from inside Finicum’s truck (lower left corner) synced with aerial footage taken by the FBI. Finicum was in the driver’s seat, while Ryan Bundy, Victoria Sharp and Shauna Cox were in the back seat.
Do you think Finicum had goaded police to shoot him? Was shooting him in the back justified? How could the police have de-escalated the situation?