Investigators have concluded that Oregon state officers were justified in shooting Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, a prominent member of the Oregon militia that occupied Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for 41 days beginning in early January. Finicum died on January 26 after a confrontation with the FBI; he refused to pull over when officers stopped his car, instead yelling at them through his open window before speeding away and crashing into a snow bank. Finicum then stepped out of the vehicle and reached toward his pocket, where he kept a 9mm semi-automatic handgun. Before he could draw the weapon, officers opened fire, and three rounds struck Finicum in the back, killing him instantly.
“He is commanded to get on the ground,” Sheriff Shane Nelson of Deschutes County, who led the investigation, told The Guardian. “He does not comply. He lifts his hand, he looks down at his jacket and again reaches across his body toward the area where his gun was found.”
Nelson and other investigating officers based their ruling on a video released by the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office filmed by Shawna Cox, a fellow militia member, from inside Finicum’s car. The footage shows Finicum shouting at police, saying things like “Go ahead and shoot me,” and “You back down or you kill me now. Go ahead, put the bullet through me. Do you want my blood on your hands?”
He speeds away and crashes his truck, at which point he gets out and tells the officers, “Go ahead and shoot me. You’re going to have to shoot me.”
Oregon state police weren’t the only ones involved in the shooting. FBI agents from the bureau’s hostage-and-rescue team also fired shots at the scene — a fact they denied in interviews both immediately after the incident and ten days later. However, investigators concluded that at least one of the shots fired came from an agent and lodged in Finicum’s truck.
FBI officials told the New York Times they weren’t yet convinced any of the shots had come from their agents, but the uncertainty is likely to fuel Finicum’s sympathizers, who claim he was murdered without cause. (There have been several protests in the wake of Finicum’s death, and Cox told the Times, “I saw what happened — they murdered him.”)
“Our family asserts that he was shot with both hands up,” Finicum’s wife, Jeanette Finicum, said in a statement. “He was not reaching for anything. He was walking with his hands in the air — a symbol of surrender.”