LaVoy Finicum’s family sues government over his death at Oregon standoff

In this Jan. 9, 2016, file photo, Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, left, a rancher from Cane Beds, Arizona, talks to reporters at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore. He was killed by police during a standoff at the refuge and his family on Friday filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the U.S. government and others. | Associated Press photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The family of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, a Cane Beds, Arizona, rancher who was killed by police during the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon alleged in a U.S. lawsuit Friday that he was “deliberately executed by a preplanned government ambush.”

The wrongful-death lawsuit filed in Portland on the second anniversary of Finicum’s death seeks at least $5 million in damages for his widow and each of their 12 children. The United States is listed as a defendant, along with the FBI, Oregon State Police, Gov. Kate Brown and others.

In this March 5, 2016, file photo, Jeanette Finicum, the widow of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, speaks with reporters during a rally at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. | Associated Press photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. Representatives for the governor and state police did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Finicum served as a spokesman for the armed group led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy that occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 to oppose federal control of land in the U.S. West and the imprisonment of two ranchers.

Investigators determined that state troopers were justified in shooting Finicum three times in the back after he exited his vehicle at a police roadblock, put his hands in the air and then reached toward a handgun in his inner jacket pocket.

The investigation also found that an FBI agent at the scene failed to disclose that he fired two rounds that missed Finicum. The agent, W. Joseph Astarita, has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of making false statements and obstruction of justice. He is listed as a defendant in the lawsuit.

The complaint compares the shooting of a Finicum to the high-profile shooting of a North Korean defector in November 2017. It notes that the North Korean man survived and made it across the border to a friendlier government on the other side.

“The story was captivating, because in the American psyche, the idea of being shot in the back by your own government for trying to cross a border is unthinkable,” the lawsuit said.

It claims Finicum was shot “assassination style” while trying to cross from Harney County into Grant County for a meeting with a sheriff who was sympathetic to the ranchers’ cause.

Dozens of people took over the remote refuge in southeastern Oregon from Jan. 2 to Feb. 11, 2016. They were allowed to come and go for several weeks as authorities tried to avoid bloodshed seen in past standoffs at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

But authorities moved in Jan. 26 when key standoff leaders left the refuge for a community meeting in neighboring Grant County, pulling over two vehicles and arresting the occupiers inside.

Finicum, 54, was driving one vehicle. Video taken by a passenger showed the occupants panicking after authorities stopped the truck. With his window rolled down, Finicum shouted at officers: “Shoot me, just shoot me! Put the bullet through me.” Finicum then sped off, coming to a roadblock and plowing into a snowbank.

The complaint says more than a dozen current and former Arizona officials wrote a letter to Oregon’s governor, asking her to conduct a more transparent investigation into what happened next.

“Defendant has refused,” according to the lawsuit.

Written by STEVEN DUBOIS, Associated Press

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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26 Comments

  • Real Life January 27, 2018 at 7:51 am

    Finicum was an idiot who got what was coming to him. HIS family and estate should be the one facing a lawsuit.

    • mesaman January 27, 2018 at 9:20 pm

      Real life is a nincompoop. He presumes to know all about Finicum’s tragic death yet most likely never met the man, or his family, or the circumstances which resulted in his death. If he is privy to this information he should contact the authorities involved in the prosecution and advise them of his extensive knowledge about it.

      • Real Life January 28, 2018 at 8:55 am

        Actually I know just as much about what happened there as you. I just have a very different angle on it as you do. You see I am not a Mormon, so I am not skewed on the subject like yourself. Let’s just say that a bunch of armed Muslims illegally took over a government facility, and then one of them (armed) was shot while evading capture. You can’t look me in the face and tell me that your opinion would be the same.

        • MeandME January 30, 2018 at 9:53 am

          Wow, why are you bringing religion into this? Is that your only backboard to score any points? I am not a Mormon either and though I feel sorry for the families loss, I do believe if you are face to face with anyone pointing a gun at you (Muslim or US Gov.) and go to draw a weapon or even hint that you are, you are going to get shot.

          • Real Life January 30, 2018 at 1:18 pm

            Ummmm, so you agree with me?

        • Jamie January 31, 2018 at 10:59 am

          It would be a completely different scenerio if this had gone down at a government facility. It’s not like this occurred at the Pentagon or even a post office. The family was leaving a wildlife sanctuary on a public road, to attend a meeting in the next county and were essentially ambushed. It would have been unacceptable for this to have occurred at the DMZ or something, let alone here in America. It’s not like our FBI is the Taliban, or even a rebel group. These people work for us and it’s up to our citizens to keep them in check. I am pro cop as long as our officers are acting within the realm of their reach. Anything more must be investigated less the agency does turn into a force acting beyond the confinement of its authority (ie: Taliban/ISIS)

  • Jamie January 27, 2018 at 8:52 am

    This sounds like a slam dunk to me. What is up with this Governer’s CYA statement in assuming that a more “transparent investigation” would have anything to do with the defense. Especially in light of the fact that her officer opened fire (which would have in my mind justified the defendant to act in self defence) had the officer not shot him in the back. It sounds like these “occupiers “ were attempting to flee the reservation, so to speak, and live off the grid. It’s difficult for me to not draw somewhat of a comparison to Wako in the realization that they were kind of fortunate to have only 1 casualty. (Not that assasination is ever acceptable) The narrative involving an armed occupation/ vs. experienced cattle ranchers/hunters who would have known better than to head into a wildlife reserve to “camp” without taking a gun. Sounds like they had no intention of an altercation with anything other than a possible alpha male or moose or something. Living off the land long term doesn’t just equate to nuts and berries.
    Good luck to the Finicum family. On a separate note, good luck to the officer facing criminal charges. On either account $5 mil would sure put a lot of distance on the relevance of this case, which I’m sure is the number one priority of the state officials right now.

    • Chris January 27, 2018 at 9:49 am

      Virtually everything you wrote is nonsense. Your understanding of the law and your command of the English language are staggeringly poor.

      • Jamie January 27, 2018 at 5:03 pm

        So Chris has no the opinion on this article other than distaste for mine? There is literally nothing in my first comment citing any sort of legalities just opinion on my understanding after following the entire Bundy incident on the front page of the Spectrum. If you have any input to correct or change my opinion, please contribute… that’s why I’m here.

  • tcrider January 27, 2018 at 8:55 am

    I agree with you 100%, and would like to add that our taxpayers dollars
    can pay for way more than the finkiums can afford, the government
    could tie up the finkiums in court for decades if they want.

    • Jamie January 27, 2018 at 9:37 am

      Thats not what I pay my taxes for???

  • Jamie January 27, 2018 at 8:58 am

    In reference to the last paragraph, shouldn’t the governer have judicial power over the sheriffs office, or is this something that should fall solely on the police agency? It makes Oregon state leaders sound unreliable to a scary degree if the only statement she can release is obviously a statement released in an effort to stonewall any accountability.

    • bikeandfish January 27, 2018 at 1:03 pm

      The last paragraph and final quote are about and from the Finicum family lawsuit, not the Governor. They are claiming the state to conduct a transparent investigation to the family’s standards.

  • bikeandfish January 27, 2018 at 1:09 pm

    I wish articles like this used technology to embed the documents into the text. It would be nice not to have to constantly do the searches ourselves.

    From the description the family has an uphill battle given the findings of the investigation into the shooting. Claims like “assassination style” don’t help.

    They get their rightful day in court. Will be an interesting to case to follow.

    • Jamie January 31, 2018 at 12:09 pm

      You are right; it was more of an execution than assasination, but how does that not play into the families claim? Especially in light of new evidence regarding the false testimony of 2 agents?

  • Lefty January 27, 2018 at 5:34 pm

    Come on folks, let’s all give that cowboy a big hand – because that’s all he’s going to be taking away from this rodeo.

  • 12345 January 27, 2018 at 6:47 pm

    waste of tax payers money

  • chris keele January 28, 2018 at 9:46 am

    Lavoy Finicum is a Father and a rancher and a family man, and would just as soon had been at home doing what he loved, tending to his family and his ranch and responsibilities, as being in a desolate, otherwise deserted, (I have read) Federal Wildlife Sanctuary building in the middle of the high desert in Oregon, but he was a man of conviction and was there to defend a cause that he was convinced needed defending, with the impending feeling that they all had of at any moment the weight of the Federal Government come crashing down on their heads, these people are not our enemy, as some who post such crude and vitriolic speech would imply, they were willing to stand up for what they believe in, and I would ask that those that post these vile words to try and find a little compassion and patience for his family and friends that go on without him, and try harder to understand another’s perspective. He was shot in the back three times, think about it, what does that tell you? A very shameful display of misuse of authority at the least. God bless you Lavoy and God bless your family as they continue to mourn this great American patriot.

    • bikeandfish January 28, 2018 at 11:43 am

      That is a clearly biased narrative meant to favorably frame Finicum in the best light possible.

      1) During the mission to arrest the Finicum convoy he stated “You are going to have to shoot me” multiple times and had been quoted as saying “I have no intention of spending any of my days in a concrete box.”. Those are the words of a person who would prefer to be a martyr rather than deal with a lawful arrest (the mission had a warrant and was legal).

      2) He refused to pull over when legally requested to do so

      3) He reached for a pocket containing a gun multiple times after exiting the vehicle.

      4). The officer approaching him was only equipped with non-lethal means despite Finicum being known to be armed on a very regular basis

      5). He was “shot in the back” because officers fired from multiple angles after he refused to be arrested by aforementioned officer and was reaching for a gun. It wasn’t assassination style as the officers were staged strategically around him as is common when apprehending an alleged criminal.

      You clearly favor the family. You clearly are sympathetic to the cause. It shows in the subjective way you have spun your “facts”.

      The family will have its day in court but have an uphill battle considering the investigative findings that found no evidence of law enforcement wrong doing. Anyone that assumes the recent mistrial decisions support his family’s lawsuit don’t understand the nuance of law. And the inclusion of the North Korean example in the filing is utter nonsense.

      • bikeandfish January 28, 2018 at 11:59 am

        I have to retract one claim as there was no warrant. It was deemed a lawful operation and traffic stop but a warrant wasn’t issued.

    • Jamie January 31, 2018 at 12:10 pm

      Very well put. Great post👍🏼

  • chris keele January 28, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    No bikeandfish it is you that have spun the ” facts” as you perceive them to be, in item#4 of your rebuttal to my post it is your assertion that ” the officer approaching him was only equipped with non lethal means despite Finicum being known to be armed on a very regular basis” that is absurd and shows a level of naivete that is clearly revealing of your knowledge of the whole confrontation , there were weapons being fired at Finicum’s truck from different unknown directions both previous to the truck becoming stuck and after it was stopped and then even after Lavoy was shot ( bushwacked) and killed,or try and explain how the two FBI agents lied about firing their rifles and then walked over and picked up the shell casings to remove the evidence of their heavy handed tactics, these so called FBI agents are nothing you or anyone else would even recognize, they are hired guns ( mercenaries) armed to the teeth, trained to kill, and itching for a fight, so please don’t tell me any more of your supposed insightful facts.

    • bikeandfish January 28, 2018 at 4:59 pm

      It only took you one fact based reply to delve into name calling and subjective spin.

      #4 is true and verifiable fact. The “officer approaching” him for arrest was only equipped with a non-lethal tazer. You can read the report, its almost verbatim.

      Yes, the FBI did not initially report the two rounds fired and has been indicted and charged with five counts, including obstruction. He has plead not guilty but the prosecutor seems to be confident in the government’s case against his actions.

      But the Oregon officer was the one who approached Finicum and it was his fellow officers who eventually fired the fatal shots. The FBI didn’t kill him. And the investigation by Oregon state is what discovered the missing FBI shots and nonetheless found the use of deadly force legal.

      And yes, there were multiple shots at their truck. They had resisted attest, engaged in high speed evasion and almost hit an officer at the road block. Finicum exited the vehicle while carrying a semi-automatic weapon that he reached for multiple times before being shot.

      It sucks he died but he voluntarily chose all of his actions, from an armed takeover of federal land to resisting arrest, a car chase to ultimately reaching for his gun after taunting police to shoot him (even in Bundy’s cellphone video). He committed suicide by cop as a martyr.

      They’ll get their day in court unless a judge finds the case without merit. They have an uphill battle given all the videos show Finicum challenging the officers to shoot him and the investigation supported the outcome. They could win but the odds don’t look good. I’ll accept the outcome of their case but this is a civil wrongful death lawsuit with lower parameters than a criminal case. If they get $, good for them but until they go after criminal charges I’m sticking to the facts highlighted and I feel comfortable drawing my conclusions.

  • Redbud January 29, 2018 at 5:49 am

    I don’t really know what all the fuss is about, but I’ll just say that I am pretty sure this is all Obama’s fault.

    • 12345 January 29, 2018 at 10:41 am

      Actually I think it’s Clinton’s fault

  • prryjs January 29, 2018 at 10:50 am

    Although that is the narrative that the government would have you believe, and that is the one that was fed to you by the media, I believe that you will see it differently when the truth comes out, much like it did with the Bundy’s. When we are able to uncover everything that has been hidden, and prove that they were entrapped in a “kill stop” to purposefully create a situation in which they could “justify” shooting them all, then your idea of justice may just change. In no way had they ever acted violently. Even though some carried guns on the refuge, there was never a threat against anyone, and locals, media, etc. came into the occupation freely without fear for their lives. Lavoy and the others had gone to several “town hall meetings” and had met with law enforcement. If they really just wanted to arrest them they could have done it at any of these different times. Instead they chose to confront them at what they initially called a “traffic stop” in the middle of no where while they were on their way to another meeting where they were going to educate people on their rights. Lavoy stopped his truck and let them know that they were headed to meet the sheriff and that they could follow them if they wanted but he wanted protection from the Sheriff because he did not trust the FBI. They shot at his truck when one of them stuck their heads out the window. The FBI was trying to get them to start a gun fight. Instead, Lavoy in fear for the safety of his passengers which included two women, one a young girl who was going to sing at the meeting they were headed to. In route Lavoy on a corner where he didn’t have much time to react encountered a “kill stop”, or a blockade which was in a spot which required him to either run into the blockage giving police the ability to open fire. Law enforcement opened fire as soon as they saw the truck, and Lavoy drove into the snow embankment. You also see in the video that an officer thought it important enough to risk his life to jump out in front of the truck to get a shot off at the passengers. Lavoy immediately jumped out and said shoot me because he was trying to protect his passengers who were under fire. They shot him immediately although his hands were in the air and his hands went down to his side where he had been shot and they continued to shoot him.

    After this they continued to shoot at the truck with rubber bullets and real bullets. During the encounter Ryan Bundy also received a bullet in his shoulder.

    What do we know already? From the Bundy trial we know that the FBI had done threat assessments on the Bundy’s several times and determined that they were not violent, and would not use violence, but that they would get in your face. Why were they so “afraid” of these protesters who never threatened anyone. Why does law enforcement always escalate situations as to allow them to play with their military toys? They could have just left them alone. The protestors were occupying a public land which was closed for the season, and weren’t hurting a thing.

    What we also know is that there has already been an FBI agent indicted due to the fact that he lied about that fact that he had opened fire and shot his gun and got caught with his buddies trying to pick up the shell casings so that there would not be any evidence. Metro turned him in because they saw that the FBI was going to try and turn this on them. The FBI escalated the situation and Metro reacted after the FBI opened fire.

    What we want to know? Why was the video they released so blurry when we know the FBI’s equipment is better that what civilians have, which is also better that what was provided. Why have they not returned the truck, or allowed anyone to see it? Why did they shoot at them at the first stop? Why did Greg Bretzing FBI agent in charge, who has been involved in other controversial, and unlawful activity in UT, retire shortly after this shooting?

    This is only a small portion of what is to be opened up in court. The government will try to hide, but these attorney’s will do like they did with the Bundy case and expose details that most won’t want to accept that their government is willing to carry out against it’s own citizens. Shut down these unconstitutional federal, militarized policing agencies.

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