The Justice Department’s internal watchdog has launched an investigation into whether FBI agents may have misled investigators looking into the fatal shooting of an armed anti-government activist in Oregon two months ago, according to sources familiar with the probe.
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State police say a review of the shots that actually killed LaVoy Finicum found the shooting to be justified, but questions remain over two other shots fired when police and the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team tried to arrest several alleged militants for taking over a federal wildlife refuge in Burns, Oregon.
After police and FBI agents tried to pull over two vehicles that had left the refuge, Finicum sped off in one of them. As his vehicle approached a “law enforcement barricade at a high rate of speed” and nearly hit a law enforcement officer, Oregon State Police fired three shots, and the vehicle crashed into a snow bank, according to the FBI.
“[O]ne, and possibly two, additional shots were fired by law enforcement as Mr. Finicum was exiting the vehicle after hitting the snow bank,” the head of the FBI’s office in Portland, Special Agent in Charge Gregory Bretzing, said at a news conference today.
Neither of those shots hit Finicum, and “the question of who fired these shots has not been resolved,” Bretzing said.
Police officials, however, believe they know who fired those shots, saying today that the pair of bullets were “fired by the FBI HRT members.”
At least initially, FBI agents didn’t disclose to authorities reviewing the incident that they had opened fire at all, according to sources.
In a statement today, the Justice Department’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, said he has “jurisdiction to independently review allegations of FBI misconduct.”
Nevertheless, sometime after the two shots in question were fired, Finicum reached for a loaded gun in his jacket pocket, prompting state troopers to fire the three bullets that struck and killed him, according to the FBI and state police.
“Mr. Finicum chose to break the law, put other people’s lives in danger, and, as the investigation shows, provoke a confrontation with law enforcement,” Bretzing said. “The threat Mr. Finicum posed to [state] troopers and agents along Highway 395 on that day was real and imminent, and certainly justified the use of deadly force by law enforcement.”