The FBI released video Thursday that shows Oregon State Police fatally shooting one of the men who occupied an Oregon wildlife refuge. Officials said he was reaching for a handgun that was in a pocket inside his jacket.
The shooting happened Tuesday afternoon during a traffic stop on a rural stretch of Oregon highway, where law enforcement had hoped to peacefully arrest the leaders of the armed group that had occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge since Jan. 2.
As of Thursday evening, four holdouts remain at the refuge, officials and one occupier said.
In video taken from an aircraft, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, 55, can be seen speeding away from law enforcement officials during an initial traffic stop. He then drives his white truck into a snowdrift near a roadblock, nearly hitting a law enforcement officer.
“Law enforcement showed great restraint, and when the vehicle took off it just about seriously injured a law enforcement officer as it barreled toward that barricade,” Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon, said at a Thursday evening news conference where officials released the video.
It shows Finicum getting out of the vehicle and then lifting his hands in the air as Oregon state troopers approached him with their guns drawn. The video, which is shot from a distance, shows him then lowering his hands toward his body, then falling into the snow as he is shot.
“On at least two occasions, Finicum reaches his right hand toward a pocket on the left inside portion of his jacket. He did have a loaded 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun in that pocket,” Bretzing said.
Bretzing said that because law enforcement officials still had to deal with the other occupants of the vehicle, it took 10 minutes to start giving Finicum medical aid. An official time of death has not been released.
The encounter took place on a remote stretch of U.S. Highway 395 roughly halfway between the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and the town of John Day, where Finicum and several other occupiers were headed to attend a community meeting.
Until now, officials had released no information about how Finicum was killed. He wasn’t formally identified by government officials until Thursday, though his supporters had confirmed his death to the media. A major-incident investigative team from Deschutes County, Ore., is reviewing the shooting.
The FBI's account of the shooting came almost two full days after two passengers gave their own accounts in videos that were shared widely over social media.
A man named Mark McConnell posted a video on Facebook early Wednesday in which he said that he was driving one of the group's vehicles and that Finicum had been driving the other.
McConnell said that after officials detained him and the other passengers in his vehicle — including Ammon Bundy, one of the leaders of the occupation — Finicum sped away with Bundy’s brother, Ryan, a woman named Shawna Cox and “an 18-year-old girl.”
“LaVoy is very passionate about this ... about what we're doing here. … But he took off,” said McConnell, who said he was released after two hours of interrogation. He said he was not among the original occupiers.
At the Thursday news conference, Bretzing said that about 30 seconds after the shooting, officers threw nonlethal explosive devices, known as "flash-bangs," to disorient the occupants of Finicum’s truck. They followed up with less-harmful “sponge projectiles” that contained capsules similar to pepper spray, Bretzing said.
Ryan Bundy, Shawna Cox and an unidentified woman were then taken out of the vehicle, Bretzing said. Bundy, 43, and Cox, 59, were arrested and charged, and the unidentified woman was released.
Officials found two loaded .223-caliber semiautomatic rifles and a loaded .38 Special revolver in Finicum’s truck, Bretzing said.
There have been a series of desertions since law enforcement surrounded the federal refuge Wednesday morning.
One of the four remaining occupiers, David Fry, told The Times in a phone interview Thursday afternoon that “we’re willing to leave” but wanted assurances from the FBI that they wouldn’t be charged.
Some occupiers have been allowed to pass through the police checkpoints, but others have been arrested and charged with federal intimidation charges for occupying the refuge.
“Right now the only thing that’s keeping us here is them not being clear with us with what’s going on,” said Fry, adding that the holdouts have been in periodic contact with two law enforcement negotiators.
“They’re saying three of us can leave and if we leave right now, we’ll be fine,” but a fourth member of the group, a man, faces a criminal charge when he departs the compound, Fry said.
“Everybody’s really skeptical of what’s going on there,” Fry said.
Fry said that he had spoken with his family. “They’re basically just saying to surrender, it’s not worth dying for,” he said.
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