The family of Oregon occupation spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against the United States, the FBI, Oregon State Police, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Oregon’s governor and others on the second anniversary of his death.
The complaint claims Finicum was shot “assassination style” by “one or more militarized officers of the Oregon State Police and/or FBI” as he was trying to drive “across the county border” to seek the protection of Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer on Jan. 26, 2016.
The suit likened it to what happened to a North Korean soldier who was shot while running across the border last November to South Korea, though he survived.
“Finicum was deliberately executed by a pre-planned government ambush, after he had exited his vehicle with his hands up,” the complaint says.
Document: Wrongful death lawsuit
Portland attorney Lisa Ludwig with Utah lawyer J. Morgan Philpot filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Pendleton on behalf of the Finicum family. It was entered into the court database at 12:03 a.m. Friday. The suit seeks more than $5 million in damages for Finicum’s wife, Jeanette Finicum, and each of their 12 children and his estate.
The complaint lists as defendants Greg Bretzing, former FBI special agent in charge in Portland, indicted FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward, Harney County commissioner Steven Grasty, the Center for Biological Diversity and multiple unnamed officers.
“These defendants were mentally predisposed and committed to using excessive lethal force, to solve a political dispute,” the complaint says. “The result has been both haunting and tragic.”
It contends the defendants engaged in “widespread and systemic corruption” and the “premeditated targeting” of Finicum and others because of his association with Nevada cattleman Cliven Bundy and Bundy family members, his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints and his political views and activism critical of federal land management and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The suit contends police and the FBI set up a “Deadman’s roadblock” on rural U.S. 395 where Finicum was shot and killed. It accuses the FBI, Oregon State Police and Bureau of Land Management of negligence and failing to properly train and supervise its officers.
Finicum, a rancher from Cane Beds, Arizona, who served as spokesman for the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in early 2016, raced away from a police stop on the highway as he and other refuge occupiers were on their way to a community meeting in John Day. Finicum crashed into the side of a snowbank to avoid a police roadblock.
The suit contends Astarita fired at Finicum after he crashed and then stepped out of his white Dodge pickup “with his hands in the air in a surrender position.”
The shooting came as state police and FBI agents stopped and arrested key figures of the occupation.
The lawsuit follows an indictment against Astarita, who Oregon investigators allege lied about firing twice at Finicum’s truck. Astarita’s bullets didn’t hit Finicum, 54, investigators said. They concluded that one of Astarita’s shots hit the roof of Finicum’s truck and that the second shot missed.
Seconds later, state troopers shot Finicum three times after he walked away from his pickup and reached for his inner jacket pocket, where police later said he had a loaded 9mm handgun, according to the investigation.
Finicum was shot in the left upper back, left shoulder and right lower back. A bullet pierced his heart, an autopsy found.
An investigation by local law enforcement authorities found the state police shots that killed Finicum were justified.
“Mr. Finicum repeatedly and knowingly made choices that put him in this situation,” Harney County District Attorney Tim Colahan said after the investigation in March 2016. “It was not the outcome that any of us wanted but one he, alone, is responsible for.”
Astarita has pleaded not guilty to three counts of making a false statement and two counts of obstruction of justice. He is accused of hiding from Oregon investigators that he fired his rifle and lying to the FBI about his shots.
Astarita, who was a member of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, is accused of telling two different FBI supervisors on the night of Jan. 26, 2016, that he hadn’t fired any gunshots. Later that night, state police detectives interviewed the five FBI agents on the team and none said they had fired their weapons.
Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said the center will act to dismiss the case against it.
“This lawsuit is a bizarre, incoherent, but nonetheless dangerous attack on free speech,” said Suckling said. “Frivolous lawsuits and accusations of murder, assassination and secret government conspiracies are blatant intimidation tactics to silence defenders of America’s public lands. Spreading such accusations into the paranoid world of unstable, anti-government extremists is reckless.”
A few supporters of Finicum’s gathered in downtown Portland later Friday for a memorial at what they’ve dubbed the “Patriot Corner” on Southwest Third Avenue across from the Justice Center and downtown federal courthouse.
“There are no words to describe all that we’ve been through, or the depth of our loss, but I know that LaVoy is with our Father in Heaven and our Savior Jesus Christ,” Jeanette Finicum wrote on her Facebook page. ” I know that he is happy and that he continues to live. I know that I will see him again and our life together will continue there. How grateful I am for this knowledge.”
— Maxine Bernstein