Sunday, October 1, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Police Shooting of Bundy Cohort|Justified, Authorities Find

BEND, Ore. (CN) - While the shooting death of Bundy militia member LaVoy Finicum by Oregon police was found to be justified, two FBI operatives may have lied to investigators and concealed the shots they fired at the man, authorities said Tuesday.

Finicum, 54, was one of the leaders of the month-long occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. He was en route to a community meeting in John Day, Oregon, on Jan. 26 when he tried to barrel through a police roadblock.

A team of local investigators used FBI footage, a video taken from inside Finicum's truck, and interviews with both police at the scene and the defendants to conclude that the shooting death of Finicum was justified, police announced Tuesday.

Police gunned down Finicum and arrested the Bundy brothers and four cohorts riding along with them. Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson said eight shots were fired that day. Six of them, fired by Oregon State Police, were "justified and necessary," Nelson said.

But the other two shots, fired by members of the FBI's elite Hostage Rescue Team, are still under investigation. One of those bullets hit the top of the truck's cab, while the other missed the truck entirely.

The FBI agents who had fired the two shots didn't immediately report that fact and had omitted other actions from their report as well. The reasons behind those two shots are the subject of an ongoing federal investigation.

"The question of who fired these shots has not been resolved," Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI in Portland, said at Tuesday's news conference.

The FBI and the Inspector General for the Department of Justice are working together with a team of local investigators. They refused to release the names of the officers involved and said they didn't know when they would have more answers.

"You never know how many interviews you'll have to conduct and you never know where the investigation will lead you," Nelson said.

Finicum was leading a caravan to a community meeting, accompanied by fellow militia members Shawna Cox, 59, Ryan Bundy, 43, Ryan Payne, 32 and 18-year-old Victoria Sharp.

Following in a Jeep were Ammon Bundy, 40, Ryan Cavalier, 44, and Mark McConnell, 37.

Police stopped the caravan about halfway between the refuge and John Day. They arrested the three men in the Jeep without incident.

But aerial footage already released by the FBI shows that the white truck driven by Finicum stopped for several minutes in the middle of the highway before it took off again.

On Tuesday, police released photos of the pistol hidden in the inside pocket of Finicum's jeans jacket, two loaded semi-automatic rifles stowed under the seats of his truck and a video taken by Shawna Cox, who rode in the truck with Finicum as he sped along Highway 395 trying to evade police.

Police matched the FBI aerial video of the event they had already released with the video taken by Cox so they play simultaneously, with Cox's video in the lower left corner of the aerial video.

Cox's video begins when state troopers first stopped the caravan.


As the truck idled in the middle of the road, Finicum yelled out the driver's side window that he was on his way to see Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer. Grant County is the northern neighbor of Harney County, home to the wildlife refuge.

Finicum, the Bundys and the other leaders of the occupation have claimed that the Constitution gives sheriffs ultimate authority over their county, above the authority granted to state and federal agents. They began their occupation after claiming that Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward had ignored their petition to grant asylum to local ranchers Dwight and Steve Hammond, who have since been jailed on federal convictions related to two fires they started on the federal land where they graze their cattle.

The new video reveals the jittery atmosphere inside the truck.

"Okay boys, this is going to get real," Finicum yelled out the open window. "If you want my blood on your hands, get it done 'cause we got people to see and places to go."

Cox, who is awaiting her trial on house arrest, suggested that Finicum get back on the road to Grant County.

"If we duck and you drive, what are they gonna do, try and knock us out?" Cox said. "How much further do we have to go?"

"We've got about fifty-odd miles," Finicum said.

The song "We Hold Each Other," came on the truck's radio and Finicum turned the music up. Pop singer Chad King of Great Big World has called it his "coming-out song," telling reporters it's the first love song about a man he's had the courage to sing.

Finicum let the chorus play while he looked out the window until Ryan Bundy asked him to turn it down.

"We should never have stopped," Ryan Bundy said. "We should never have stopped."

"I'm gonna keep going," Finicum said.

"Then we have to duck," Cox said.

"You ready?" Finicum asked.

"Where's those guns?" Bundy asked.

"The gun's stowed, you can't get around it," Finicum said. "I'm gonna go. You guys ready?"

"'Kay, get down," Ryan Bundy told Sharp.

"You get down," Cox repeated to Sharp.

"Give me that camera," Cox said. "Go. Gun it."

Finicum did, speeding along the highway for a mile and a half before he saw the next roadblock.

Hunkered down in the backseat, Cox and Bundy tried to figure out who to call. But there was no cell service on the remote stretch of highway.

"Hang on!" Finicum yelled twice, just before he plowed into the snowbank next to the roadblock at 50 miles per hour.

Finicum leapt from the truck the moment it stopped in the deep snow.

"Go ahead and shoot me!" he yelled to three Oregon state troopers who surrounded him. "You're gonna have to shoot me," he yelled several times.

Finicum's family has claimed he jumped from the truck in an attempt to draw police fire away from the truck.

Nelson said the trooper in front of Finicum was closing in, trying to get into range to use his Taser and arrest Finicum.

Finicum twice reached his right hand toward the inside pocket of his jeans jacket, where officers had been briefed that Finicum usually carried a gun, Nelson said.

"Still, they did not shoot," Nelson said.

But Finicum again appeared to reach for his gun, this time grasping his jacket with his left hand while reaching into the inside pocket with his right hand.

That's when the two Oregon State Troopers behind Finicum fired, fearing for the life of the trooper in front of him, Nelson said.

Oregon state troopers shot Finicum three times: mid-back, in his left shoulder and at the base of his neck. Finicum lay crumpled in the snow while police fired flash bangs and tear gas.

"Did they shoot him?" Cox said. "Assholes!"

Ryan Bundy told Cox and Sharp that they were in their current predicament because the group had been lulled into a false sense of security.

"We got too stinkin' relaxed," Ryan Bundy told Cox and Sharp. "We think things are all just fine. We got too damn relaxed."

One by one, they obeyed police orders to get out of the truck.

"They killed LaVoy," Ryan Bundy said as he climbed into the snowbank.

Next out was Sharp.

"He's dead!" she said of Finicum in a small, tearful voice.

"Mr. Finicum repeatedly and knowingly made choices that put him in this situation," Harney County District Attorney Tim Colahan said Tuesday. "It was not the outcome that any of us wanted but one he, alone, is responsible for."

Follow @@karinapdx
Categories / Uncategorized

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.