FBI Agent Charged With Cover-Up in Rancher Shooting

Robert Finicum killed during takeover of Oregon wildlife refuge
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 28, 2017 6:30 PM CDT
FBI Agent in Court on Charge of Lying About Rancher Shooting
Robert Finicum talks to reporters at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January 2016. An FBI agent has been indicted on accusations that he lied about firing at Finicum when officers arrested leaders of the armed occupation at Malheur in Oregon.   (Rick Bowmer)

An FBI agent pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges that he lied about shooting at a key figure in last year's armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge just before the man was killed by Oregon police, the AP reports. W. Joseph Astarita was indicted on five felony charges after the inspector general of the US Justice Department began investigating last year possible FBI misconduct and whether there was a cover-up. Robert Finicum, a spokesperson for the group that took over the remote bird sanctuary to oppose federal control of land in the Western US, was fatally shot Jan. 26, 2016. Oregon State Police opened fire after he got out of a vehicle at a police roadblock, held up his hands, and then reached toward a gun that he kept in an inner jacket pocket.

Investigators determined the troopers were justified in shooting Finicum but also found members of an FBI hostage rescue team at the scene failed to disclose that they fired two rounds that missed the Arizona rancher. A grand jury indicted Astarita on three counts of making false statements to his FBI supervisors on the day of the shooting and the day after it and on two counts of obstruction of justice for misleading the Oregon State Police. A jury trial is set for Aug. 29. Finicum's widow has said she plans to sue Oregon State Police and the FBI, alleging the use of excessive force in her husband's death. Dozens of people, including leader Ammon Bundy, occupied the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge about 290 miles southeast of Portland, from Jan. 2 to Feb. 11, 2016. (More FBI stories.)

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