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Federal Bureau of Investigation agent charged with lying about shooting of OR occupier


Astarita was one of a number of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who were assigned to the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County.

At a federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon Wednesday W. Joseph Astarita, a member of the FBI's hostage response team pled not guilty to three counts of making false statements and two counts of obstruction of justice, charges stemming from the 2016 shooting death of Lavoy Finicum during the armed occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Finicum was fatally shot by Oregon State Police in January 2016 during a traffic stop after he got out of the vehicle, put his hands up and reached toward a gun that he had in a jacket pocket.

The shooting happened in the final weeks of a standoff that lasted more than a month.

At the height of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which stretched on for weeks at the bird sanctuary in southeastern OR, authorities pulled over some of the group's leaders as they traveled on a snowy highway toward a meeting on January 26, 2016.

Nelson, whose department headed the investigation into the shooting, also said he was disappointed that after he briefed FBI administrators about the actions of Astaritas and the rest of the FBI HRT, members of the group were not placed on administrative leave.

The agent will be identified when summoned to appear in U.S. District Court in Portland Wednesday.

"Special Agent Astarita falsely stated he did not fire his weapon during the attempted arrest of Mr. Finicum when in fact he did", said Williams.


A cattle rancher from Arizona, Finicum had become an active supporter of the Bundy family in Nevada.

News about a federal inquiry into the shooting previous year, as well as allegations that an FBI agent had lied about his role, fueled speculation among supporters of the refuge occupiers that Finicum had been unjustly shot during the operation, or that federal authorities had planned to kill leaders of the occupation all along. The FBI video showed Finicum then sped away from the traffic stop, crashing into a snow bank after encountering a police roadblock a short distance up the highway.

Finicum's death spurred protests and conspiracy theories among occupation supporters.

Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson said in a press conference Wednesday one of the two rounds fired by Astarita struck the roof of Finicum's pickup.

The other truck, driven by Finicum, 54, idled at the roadblock while occupier Ryan Payne climbed out the back and was arrested. Those shots were fired by state troopers. They said that Astarita was relatively new to the team when he was deployed to Oregon. Three bullets hit the truck, but no one was injured.

Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Shawna Cox and four other occupiers were acquitted of all charges related to the OR standoff.

Several others pleaded guilty without going to trial or were convicted.

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