An FBI agent has been indicted on accusations that he lied about firing at Robert "LaVoy" Finicum in 2016 when officers arrested leaders of an armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in rural Oregon.
Finicum was a leader of the armed occupation of the Malheur refuge.
The agent, Joseph Astarita, was charged with three counts of making false statements and two counts of obstruction of justice in an indictment handed down in U.S. District Court in OR on June 20. The indictment also charges Astarita with two counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly misleading Oregon State Police officers about the two rounds.
He said nothing during a brief court hearing and was released on his own recognizance, declining to comment as he left. He was shot and killed by an Oregon State Police trooper during a confrontation with law enforcement as occupiers traveled between Burns and John Day on January 26, 2016. Instead, he reached toward his jacket, and state troopers fired three rounds that hit him.
"Special Agent Astarita was one of a number of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents assigned to the occupation task of attempting to apprehend certain members and leader of the occupation including Robert Lavoy Finicum", said U.S. Attorney Billy Williams.
The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General in partnership with the United States Attorney's Office for the District of OR investigated the case.
That investigation led to the charges against Astarita, a member of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team.
An obstruction of justice conviction for Astarita could carry up to 20 years in prison, and a conviction for making false statements can mean a sentence of up to five years.
Both bullets missed Finicum, one of the bullets hitting the roof of the truck. He was, however, released, on personal recognizance due to his trial August 29. People from around the country had come to participate in what they described as a protest of the federal government's ownership of Western lands.
News about a federal inquiry into the shooting previous year, as well as allegations that an FBI agent had lied about his role, fueled speculation among supporters of the refuge occupiers that Finicum had been unjustly shot during the operation, or that federal authorities had planned to kill leaders of the occupation all along. In an extended video filmed from an airplane, vehicles carrying members of the group are seen being pulled over by police.
He's accused of lying to investigators about his role in the shooting death of Arizona rancher Robert "LaVoy" Finicum. "Go ahead, put the bullet through me!" Plowing into a snowbank, Finicum climbed out of the truck with his hands raised. The FBI video showed Finicum then sped away from the traffic stop, crashing into a snow bank after encountering a police roadblock a short distance up the highway.
"I think they were trying to kill everybody in the truck", he said Wednesday.