The investigation into the death of LaVoy Finicum, killed during the occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January, shows that the three fatal shots fired by Oregon State Police were justified “and, in fact, necessary,” Malheur County District Attorney Dan Norris said Tuesday.
In total, eight shots were fired, the investigation showed. Oregon State Police officers at the roadblock where Finicum was shot fired three times at Finicum’s truck as he drove toward a roadblock, Deschutes County Sheriff L. Shane Nelson said. The officers believed Finicum “planned to crash through or otherwise evade the roadblock” and could injure or kill law enforcement officers at the scene, Norris said.
As Finicum exited his vehicle with a loaded Ruger 9 mm handgun in the left-hand interior pocket of his jacket, he was instructed to get on the ground three times, Nelson said.
Despite Finicum defying those orders and reaching toward the pocket containing the gun, two nearby state police officers did not immediately open fire, and a third officer attempted to move in with a Taser, Nelson said. Finicum was out of range of the Taser, he said.
When Finicum reached for his pocket a third time, two troopers opened fire, hitting him three times in the back — in the left shoulder, below the neck and on the right side of his lower back.
FBI agents fired the other two shots before Finicum exited the vehicle, Nelson said. One missed the truck, while the other hit the truck’s roof, the sheriff said.
The names of the law enforcement officers involved are not being released out of concern for “their safety and the safety of their families,” Norris said, adding that there had been threats against the officers, including rewards offered by extremist groups.
Finicum was the lone armed occupier of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to die at law enforcement’s hands in the 41-day standoff.
The occupation of part of the federal wildlife refuge ended peacefully February 11 when the last four occupiers surrendered to authorities. They’d once been among a larger group who took over the refuge’s headquarters in a defiant protest of federal land policies. They decried the arson convictions of father-and-son ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond (though the Hammonds insisted they didn’t want help from the occupiers, led by Ammon Bundy.)
For weeks, authorities positioned themselves outside a Malheur National Wildlife Refuge building near Burns — not charging in to get the occupiers but not giving them a free pass to stay or easily leave either.
Some of the occupiers insisted that they planned to stay as long as it took and that they were prepared to die.
Finicum was the only one who did.
Finicum drove away from police, FBI says
Finicum was driving one of two vehicles authorities tracked leaving the Malheur refuge January 26. One — carrying Bundy, the protest leader whose father, Cliven, was at the center of a similar armed standoff in 2014 — pulled over to a stop, and the people inside came out peacefully.
Video posted to the FBI’s YouTube channel showed Finicum kept going. He stopped at one point (and an occupant from his truck got out) and then resumed driving “at a high rate of speed,” Greg Bretzing, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Oregon, said two days after the shooting.
Approaching a roadblock on U.S. Highway 395, his white truck apparently missed a spike strip and narrowly avoided hitting an FBI agent before becoming stuck in a snowbank. Finicum then got out.
“On at least two occasions, Finicum reaches his right hand toward a pocket … on his jacket,” Bretzing told reporters in January. “He did have a loaded 9 mm semi-automatic handgun in that pocket.
“At this time, (Oregon State Police) troopers shot Finicum.”
Victoria Sharp, 18, later told CNN that she was one of three people inside the truck. She alleged Finicum had been unjustly gunned down, challenging the assertion that he’d reached for a weapon.
“He was not doing anything aggressive, anything,” Sharp insisted. “He was just walking.”
Explaining that authorities released the video showing Finicum’s final minutes “in the interest of transparency,” Bretzing said then. “We know there are various versions of what occurred during this event: most inaccurate, some inflammatory.
“To that end, we want to do what we can to lay out an honest and unfiltered view of what happened and how it happened.”
The shooting occurred in Harney County, but Bretzing has said the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office would conduct “the outside review of the shooting per Oregon state law and established protocols.”
Late rancher vowed he wouldn’t go to prison
The Arizona rancher and published author left behind 11 children, some of whom were adopted. And this family — “like the Brady Bunch on steroids,” Finicum told CNN in December — was growing, with two grandchildren on the way.
“So I’ve got a lot to live for,” he said.
Finicum remained defiant, at times sitting outside the occupiers’ Malheur refuge compound in a rocking chair, a rifle in his hands.
“I’m here to make it easy for the FBI to find me,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t use the rifle “unless someone points a weapon at me.”
While Finicum stated he felt the ordeal could “be peacefully resolved,” there was one outcome he couldn’t envision: time behind bars.
“I’m just not going to prison,” Finicum said. “Look at the stars. There’s no way I’m going to sit in a concrete cell where I can’t see the stars and roll out my bedroll on the ground. That’s just not going to happen.
“I want to be able to get up in the morning and throw my saddle on my horse and go check on my cows. It’s OK. I’ve lived a good life. God’s been gracious to me.”
By Greg Botelho, CNN
CNN’s Eliott C. McLaughlin, Holly Yan, Jason Kravarik and Kyung Lah contributed to this report.