OREGON STANDOFF

Finicum family accuses police of cover-up

LaVoy Finicum was "executed in cold blood," and the FBI and Oregon State Police are covering up the truth about his shooting, Finicum's family said in a statement yesterday.

After viewing the FBI's aerial footage of the incident and new eyewitness accounts, the family said it believes police began shooting Finicum before he exited his truck and that the 54-year-old quickly moved through the snow to draw gunfire away from his three passengers, who included an 18-year-old woman.

His hands were empty and he never wielded a gun, the family said.

"He was cornered like a helpless animal, with nowhere else to turn, and executed in cold blood," said the statement provided by the family's attorney, Todd Macfarlane.

While Finicum did lower his hands, that was after he'd been shot multiple times in the back and was a "natural physical reflex," the family said.

The family's statement follows the arrests last week of 11 individuals connected to the monthlong occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oregon, including its leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy. Four militants remain at the refuge surrounded by police.

Finicum was shot Jan. 26 by Oregon State Police during a traffic stop about 20 miles north of Burns where police arrested the Bundys and three others.

Finicum's family claimed that the FBI last week deliberately released a "very grainy, edited" video with no audio in an effort to "make the first impression on this issue, and seek to sway public opinion."

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"The FBI and Oregon State Police may also be engaging in a cover-up, and seeking to manipulate and mislead the media and the American public about what really happened," the family said.

It asked the FBI to release all of its relevant audio recordings, including an audio track of the incident that the family said was recorded on the phone of one of Finicum's passengers, Shawna Cox, which has not been released.

The family also asked for any full-length, unedited videos taken by drones, body cameras, dashboard cameras or other devices, along with close-up images of Finicum's truck.

The family's allegations follow a statement by Cox last weekend that Finicum had yelled, "Just shoot me, shoot me, shoot me," at police from the car and was shot with his hands up while unarmed and not a threat.

Yesterday, Victoria Sharp, the 18-year-old who rode in the backseat of Finicum's truck, said in an interview with CNN that he "was not showing any signs of aggression" when police shot him. She acknowledged that she had not yet seen the FBI video.

"He had his hands in the air and he was walking," Sharp said. "These people were inhumane."

Few conclusions can be drawn from the video released by the FBI last week.

Finicum is shown swerving left into a snowbank to avoid a police blockade and immediately jumping out of the car with his hands up. As he's surrounded by police, he reaches multiple times toward his belt and then falls to the ground. There's no audio, so it's unclear when shots were fired.

"We did everything we could to bring this situation to a peaceful resolution," FBI Special Agent in Charge Greg Bretzing said last week. "On at least two occasions, Finicum reaches his right hand toward a pocket on the left inside portion of his jacket. He did have a loaded 9 mm semi-automatic handgun in that pocket."

Bretzing would not say whether Finicum had a gun in his hand when he was shot, saying that information would come out in the investigation. He said the media would not immediately be allowed to view or photograph Finicum's vehicle.

The number of shots fired was in the single digits, he said. That differs from Sharp's earlier statement that at least 120 shots were fired.

The Deschutes County Sheriff's Office, which Oregon State Police has asked to conduct an investigation into the shooting, said yesterday that it will not be releasing any more information on the incident until its probe is complete.

"This is an ongoing investigation and in order to maintain its integrity, no further information will be released until a thorough investigation and review is completed by Malheur County District Attorney Dan Norris," said Deschutes Sheriff Shane Nelson.

The office said it will likely be at least four to six weeks before the results of the investigation are released.

Finicum's family had an independent autopsy performed on the rancher but will not be releasing the findings to the public, if at all, until after the official autopsy results are released, Macfarlane said.

Growing movement

Finicum's death has angered the remaining four militants at the refuge and set off a firestorm of anti-government vitriol on social media. It was condemned by the Pacific Patriots Network, a regional group that promotes "life, liberty, property and the environment," which mobilized an estimated couple of hundred protesters yesterday outside the Harney County Courthouse in opposition to the police response.

A counterprotest estimated to include slightly more individuals showed up to demand the refuge occupants and their outside sympathizers leave the county.

Proponents of transferring the federal government's roughly 640 million acres to local control are using Finicum's death as a rallying cry.

A memorial for Finicum will be held Friday in Kanab, Utah, not far from Finicum's ranch in Cane Beds, Ariz. Before his death, Finicum said he'd persuaded eight other Utah ranchers to join him in rejecting grazing oversight by the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service.

On Saturday, the National Federal Lands Conference is hosting a "property rights workshop" in Kanab to discuss how to deal with "federal overreach."

"What RIGHTS Did LaVoy Finicum Care About Enough to Give His Life For?" a flier for the event says.

The Center for Western Priorities, a Denver-based group that supports maintaining federal ownership of lands, said most Westerners do not support giving those lands to local governments. It warned that despite the Bundys' arrest, the "land seizure movement is not over."

In 2015, CWP said, a total of 37 land transfer bills were introduced in 11 state legislatures.

Ammon Bundy, whose goal in seizing the refuge was to transfer its 188,000 federally owned acres to Harney County, said through his attorneys yesterday that the county sheriff "should cordon off the refuge as the citizens work on returning these lands back to the people of Harney County and the state of Oregon as prescribed in the Constitution."

He again urged the four remaining militants to leave the refuge so they are not killed.

Bundy said he has spent 23 hours per day in solitary confinement and has been unable to speak with his father, Cliven Bundy, who, unlike Ammon, has signaled he wants the occupation to continue.

"We the People of Harney County and also We the People of the citizens of the United States DO GIVE NOTICE THAT WE WILL RETAIN POSSESSION OF THE HARNEY COUNTY RESOURCE CENTER," Cliven Bundy wrote Monday in a notarized letter to Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward, referring to the new name given to the refuge by occupants. "Remove all federal and state policing agents out of Harney County."

Email: ptaylor@eenews.net

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