Wednesday, September 30, 2020
Sept. 30, 2020

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Civil suit in Finicum’s death can proceed against state troopers but not FBI or governor, judge rules

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PORTLAND — A wrongful death civil suit can proceed against the Oregon State Police stemming from the 2016 fatal shooting of refuge occupation spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, but allegations against the FBI, federal Bureau of Land Management, Oregon’s governor and Harney County should be thrown out, a federal judge has recommended.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan made the findings in a 73-page ruling that now goes before a district judge, who can accept the findings, reject them or issue a separate decision.

Jeanette Finicum filed the lawsuit against the FBI, Oregon State Police, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and others in the fatal shooting of her 54-old husband, a rancher from Arizona who became the spokesman for the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon.

He was shot Jan. 26, 2016, by two state police officers after he fled a police stop and emerged from his truck at a roadblock. The FBI and state police initiated the stop to arrest organizers of the refuge occupation. Police said LaVoy Finicum had reached inside his jacket for a gun when he was shot. Police later said they recovered a loaded 9mm handgun, according to the investigation.

The suit alleged that Finicum, 54, 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.

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 accused the FBI, Oregon State Police and Bureau of Land Management of negligence and failing to properly train and supervise its officers.

The suit followed an indictment against FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita, who Oregon investigators alleged lied about firing twice at Finicum’s truck. Astarita’s bullets didn’t hit Finicum, 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.

Astarita was acquitted of all charges after a jury trial.

The magistrate judge threw out allegations that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown was in any way liable for Finicum’s death, finding that the governor did not participate in the encounter at the roadblock or the shooting.

The suit alleged that the governor was the “proximate cause” of the allegedly excessive use of force because she disseminated information about Finicum in an effort to “control the narrative,” and authorized the January 26 stop and the state police participation.

But Sullivan found that wasn’t sufficient, finding no “integral participation” to hold Brown liable for an alleged excessive force claim.

The judge dismissed other defendants named because of the plaintiffs’ failure to properly serve them with a summons.

Lawyers for Jeanette Finicum have two weeks to object to the findings before a district judge makes a final ruling.

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