Family of Oregon militant LaVoy Finicum challenging government account of his death
As four armed anti-government protesters held their ground at a U.S. wildlife refuge in Oregon on Friday, the family of a protester killed by police said he seemed to have been shot in the back with his hands up, although authorities said he was reaching for a gun.
Relatives of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, 54, a spokesman for the group that seized buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, said he posed no threat and they were not accepting the authorities’ assertion that he was armed.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation released video on Thursday of state police fatally shooting Finicum, and contended it showed him making a move for a gun in his coat pocket.
“LaVoy was not ‘charging’ anyone. He appears to have been shot in the back, with his hands in the air,” the family of the Arizona rancher said in a statement through their attorney.
“At this point we will await the outcome of any investigation, but based on the information currently available to us, we do not believe that LaVoy’s shooting death was justified.”
Four armed protesters were still holed up on Friday at the remote refuge, 30 miles (48 km) from Burns, a small ranching community in the state’s rural southeast. The FBI says it is working “around the clock” to negotiate with the holdouts.
Ammon Bundy, who led the occupation that began on Jan. 2, was arrested on Tuesday along with other protesters including his brother, Ryan.
Bundy has issued messages through his attorney urging those who remain at the refuge to stand down, and saying they would continue to fight federal land policy through the courts.
Bundy and his brother Ryan were ordered held without bail pending trial on felony conspiracy charges, a U.S. District Court judge ruled on Friday.
“There are no conditions I could impose that would ensure the safety of the community. I’m worried about him occupying another government building,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman told the hearing in Portland.
Beckerman ordered most of the Bundys’ co-defendants held without bail as well, at least until another next week.
Following the hearing Ammon Bundy’s attorney said that he had reached out to the final four holdouts in a bid to convince them to stand down, but that those men were skeptical without hearing directly from Bundy.
The occupation began when Bundy and at least a dozen followers seized buildings at the refuge in the latest flare-up of the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a decades-old conflict over federal control of millions of acres of land in the West.
Authorities said Finicum was armed when he was killed, and on Thursday night they released aerial video that showed him fleeing in a white truck, nearly striking an officer while trying to evade a police barricade, then barreling into a deep snowbank and exiting the car.
The grainy footage shows Finicum raising his hands and then turning and flailing his arms. He then lowers his arms to his body and is shot by Oregon State Police troopers, the FBI said.
Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Portland office, told reporters Finicum can be seen reaching for his jacket pocket, where officers found a loaded 9mm semi-automatic handgun. But the lack of focus in the video makes it difficult to discern Finicum’s precise movements.
The dead rancher’s relatives said the video seems to show him gesturing, or trying to keep his balance in the snow.
“Although he may have been animated, he does not appear to have been threatening or posing any real threat or danger to anyone,” Finicum’s family said in their statement.
That view was echoed by some of the two dozen people who held a rally outside the Harney County courthouse on Friday.
“It’s kind of like murder, it looks like to me. They had every chance to take them peacefully,” said 54-year-old local resident Cam Ray.
A 79-year-old rancher, Monte Siegner, held a sign that read: “Ambushed and assassinated.”
“He got out with his hands up in the deep snow,” Siegner said. “I didn’t see any gun.”
The FBI video was released hours after Todd Macfarlane, a lawyer for Finicum’s relatives, said other evidence may exist that shows Finicum was not threatening authorities.
Macfarlane said one potential source of information about the shooting was Victoria Sharp, a woman who says she was friends with some of the armed protesters and claims she was at the scene and watched Finicum die.
Sharp said in an interview with Reuters that Finicum was shot with his gun in his holster and his hands in the air, shouting and walking toward police.
Neither state nor federal law enforcement would comment on whether Sharp was at the scene or on her description. Reuters was not able to independently confirm her version of the events.
(Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco, Victoria Cavaliere and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Bill Trott, Toni Reinhold and Lisa Shumaker)