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Vol. 81/No. 27      July 24, 2017


FBI agent indicted for lying in killing of LaVoy Finicum

An FBI agent involved in the cold-blooded killing of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum near the end of the ranchers’ occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon on Jan. 26, 2016, was indicted on three counts of making false statements and two counts of obstruction of justice.

In a packed federal courtroom June 28, W. Joseph Astarita, a member of the elite FBI Hostage Rescue Team, pled not guilty to “knowingly and willfully” making false statements and “failing to disclose that he had fired two rounds” during the shooting.

Occupation leader Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan, Finicum and others, were driving to speak at a community meeting in John Day, Oregon, about why they were protesting the imprisonment of cattle ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond and against federal land policies that have ruinous consequences for small ranchers and farmers. Based on a tip from undercover FBI informers, armed FBI and Oregon state cops set up a roadblock to intercept them, deploying snipers and surveillance planes.

The killing provoked condemnation by ranchers and others in the Pacific Northwest. “The truth will come out. LaVoy was just flat murdered,” Tad Houpt, who helped organize the meeting Finicum and the Bundys were on their way to, told the Militant shortly after the killing.

Astarita is accused of lying about firing two shots at Finicum’s truck, hitting the roof and missing on the second shot. Seconds later state troopers shot Finicum three times in the back, claiming he was reaching for a gun.

If convicted, Astarita faces up to 20 years in prison. After the court hearing he was released pending an Aug. 29 trial.

“I’m encouraged. I’m thrilled that the grand jury came back with this finding.” Jeannette Finicum, LaVoy’s wife, told the press, adding that there are four other FBI agents who took part in the ambush who have not yet been charged. She said she wished the same standard would apply to the Bundys and other rancher protesters.

Ammon and Ryan Bundy and five others were jailed in Portland, Oregon until they were found not guilty on conspiracy and other charges involved in the Malheur protest Oct. 27. The Bundys were immediately arrested again and are incarcerated in Nevada along with their father Cliven. They’re awaiting trial on charges resulting from protests against federal agents’ attempts to confiscate their father’s cattle in a fight over access to grazing on federal land in 2014.

Protests have taken place outside the Nevada federal detention center where the Bundys are being held, against the abusive conditions they face in jail. Ryan Bundy has filed a civil lawsuit charging their constitutional rights are being violated by frequent strip searches and solitary confinement.  
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