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Federal Bureau of Investigation agent indicted in LaVoy Finicum shooting

30 June 2017

A federal grand jury charged an FBI agent with obstructing justice, claiming he lied to cover up the shots he fired at a truck driven by a spokesman for the Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupiers, just before Robert "LaVoy" Finicum was gunned down by OR state police.

W. Joseph Astarita was indicted on five felony charges after the inspector general of the U.S. Justice Department previous year began investigating possible FBI misconduct and whether there was a cover-up.

The agent's shots did not hit Robert "LaVoy" Finicum during a 2016 traffic stop, but soon afterward, Oregon State Police fatally shot the Arizona rancher after he reached toward a handgun in an inner pocket.

The FBI agent, a member of the agency's Hostage Rescue Team, also denied firing his weapon to Oregon State Police on the day of the shooting, and then again a month later when investigators interviewed him to follow up on the case, prosecutors allege.

He said the Finicum family may still bring a civil lawsuit against the Oregon State Police and the federal government.

At a Portland news conference Wednesday, Nelson said he and investigators from his office went to Washington, D.C., past year to inform Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe of his agency's findings.

Oregon US Attorney Billy Williams said at a press conference on Wednesday that the indictment did not change the findings of the deadly shooting, which found that officers were justified in shooting Finicum.

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Astarita, according to the indictment, told at least three supervisors in the Federal Bureau of Investigation that he had not fired his weapon, which would have prompted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to dispatch its Shooting Incident Response Team to investigate. In the cab, ranchers Finicum, Shawna Cox, Ryan Bundy and 18-year-old gospel singer Victoria Sharp debated their next move. Plowing into a snowbank, Finicum climbed out of the truck with his hands raised. Finicum, who was in a separate truck ahead of Bundy, initially stopped too. They said that Astarita was relatively new to the team when he was deployed to Oregon. Finicum's death led to further protests.

On Wednesday, a federal indictment against FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita was unsealed, in which he is accused of lying about firing his gun twice during the OR operation.

"The actions of the FBI HRT team in this case damage the integrity of the entire law enforcement profession, which makes me both disappointed and angry", said Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson, whose department investigated Finicum's shooting.

The Associated Press notes that Ammon and Ryan Bundy, along with five others, were acquitted in a 2016 jury trial after being charged with conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs.

Several others pleaded guilty without going to trial or were convicted.

The Bundy brothers' victory was short-lived, as they (and others) were arrested and charged with conspiracy in their father's earlier armed standoff in 2014 with federal agents in Nevada.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agent indicted in LaVoy Finicum shooting