Investigators have concluded that police were justified in shooting Robert “LaVoy” Finicum last year, a rancher who was involved in the occupation and standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge.
However, charges have been filed against an FBI agent for lying about his role in the shooting. FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita pleaded not guilty to the charges on Wednesday, according to The Oregonian.
Astarita, 40, was indicted on five counts – he has been charged with three counts of making a false statement and two counts of obstruction of justice.
The indictment reads: “Defendant acted with the intent to hinder, delay and prevent the communication of information from the Oregon State Police to the Federal Bureau of Investigation relating to the possible commission of a federal offense.”
After being chased by law enforcement on January 26, 2016, Finicum had swerved his pickup into a snowbank to avoid a roadblock officials had set up. After he emerged from his pickup, he was shot and killed by the officers.
Astarita, a member of an FBI Hostage Rescue Team, allegedly lied about it afterwards, claiming he had not fired his weapon at Finicum. He is accused of actually firing at Finicum twice as he was getting out of his vehicle, although his shots did not actually hit the man, but one of his shots hit the roof of the truck and the second missed.
Moments later, after Finicum was out of the vehicle, state troopers shot three times and killed Finicum, as they said he was reaching into his inner jacket pocket where he had a loaded 9mm handgun.
Brian Claypool, an attorney for the Finicum family, said he believes the agent’s shots escalated the situation, which resulted in the shooting death of Finicum. The family has indicated they plan to file a lawsuit against the Oregon State Police and the FBI for using excessive force in the situation.
At a hearing Wednesday, a trial date was scheduled for August 29 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice M. Stewart.
A news conference was held after the hearing. Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson expressed anger and disappointment that the agent’s actions “damaged the integrity of the entire law enforcement profession.”
Astarita will reportedly not be held in custody, remaining free, pending the trial.
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