The Federal Bureau of Investigation released video footage Thursday of the shooting death of LaVoy Finicum, the Arizona rancher and member of the militia occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon. Finicum was the sole individual killed during Tuesday’s traffic stop that saw Ammon Bundy, one of the militants’ leaders, and four others arrested. The video immediately prompted supporters of the occupation and Finicum’s family to claim the footage bolstered their original assumptions, and accused the FBI of shooting the man in cold blood.
The Oregonian reported January 29 that the FBI, in a rare move by the agency, released video footage of the incident where federal law enforcement officers attempted to arrest members of the so-called Oregon militia that had held federal buildings at the Wildlife Refuge southwest of Burns, Oregon, for over three weeks. That attempt, though successful, ultimately ended with two people shot, LaVoy Finicum and Ryan Bundy. Bundy’s injuries were non-life-threatening and he was arrested along with his younger brother, Ammon, and four others at the scene.
Shortly following the announcement of the arrests and the death of one of the occupation members, speculation began spreading that the death was not an accident and that the death had occurred as the man attempted to surrender to authorities. Further complicating matters was the official story that shots had been fired and that it was unknown who shot first. The deceased was later identified as LaVoy Finicum, one of the leaders of, and sometimes spokesman for, the protest collective at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
The video shows authorities having pulled over two vehicles on U. S. 395 in Oregon. Of the eight occupants of the two vehicles, three, including Ammon Bundy, were arrested from the first vehicle, a Jeep. From the second vehicle, a white truck and driven by LaVoy Finicum, Ryan Bundy emerged and was subsequently arrested. Finicum then sped away from the scene.
After a couple bends in the highway, a roadblock forced Finicum to steer into a snowbank, where the vehicle got stuck. Finicum then got out of the truck, his arms at first outstretched before lowering them. He seems to have been reaching for or into his jacket pocket. His hands went up again, then, repeating his earlier motions, reached again into the pocket. Officers opened fire, shooting him, causing him to fall onto his back.
Finicum can be seen raising his right hand as he lay on the ground. He would then become still. Authorities concentrated on removing three other people from the truck.
As the Oregonian points out, the Finicum shooting video has now become a hot topic of debate. Some see it as supporting the official story. However, others see it as questionable. And still others look at it as a clear example of a man shot while surrendering.
Greg Bretzing, a special agent in charge with the FBI, said in a statement that authorities had done “everything we could to bring this to a peaceful resolution.” But doubters are saying that Finicum was surrendering, had raised his hands. Besides, they reasoned, he might not have been reaching for a gun. He may have been trying to gain his balance in the snow or reacting to being wounded.
Other questions surround the incident. Had LaVoy Finicum said anything before being shot? Was a gun actually drawn by the rancher?
As the debate rages over Finicum’s last moments and what the shooting video actually depicts, four people still occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the last remnants of an armed band of protesters that took over the area on January 2 to protest federal land properties and support what they deemed as unfair treatment of two local ranchers, Dwight and Steven Hammond.
Federal officers had converged on the main building at the Refuge following multiple arrests Tuesday. The Oregonian reported that, in addition to the five people arrested at the U. S. 395 stop, two others were taken into custody in Burns later in the day. Three more were arrested at a checkpoint Wednesday attempting to leave to Refuge.
The Oregonian reported Thursday that U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie F. Beckerman refused to release any of the defendants from jail “so long as that situation is ongoing.” According to KOIN in Portland, in documents filed Friday, Ammon Bundy was denied release after appealing that he wasn’t aligned with those remaining at the Wildlife Refuge, that he was a federalist and had sent a message, the occupation had never been about a standoff, and he just wanted to go home to his family in Idaho. However, the judge said she rejected the argument that the occupation had been a peaceful operation based on freedom of speech.
An eleventh defendant Jon Ritzheimer, now more famous for a video complaining about care packages containing dildos (instead of asked-for provisions for the Refuge occupiers) than his role as a militant, turned himself in to Arizona authorities earlier in the week as well, according to CNN. He is in the process of being extradited to Oregon to face charges alongside the other ten members of the Oregon militia. All eleven will eventually face federal felony charge of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats.