PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The family of an Arizona rancher who was killed by police during the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon alleged in a U.S. lawsuit Friday that he was “deliberately executed by a preplanned government ambush.”
The wrongful-death lawsuit filed in Portland on the second anniversary of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum’s death seeks at least $5 million in damages for his widow and each of their 12 children. The United States is listed as a defendant, along with the FBI, Oregon State Police, Gov. Kate Brown and others.
FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. Representatives for the governor and state police did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Finicum served as a spokesman for the armed group led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy that occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 to oppose federal control of land in the U.S. West and the imprisonment of two ranchers.
Investigators determined that state troopers were justified in shooting Finicum three times in the back after he exited his vehicle at a police roadblock, put his hands in the air and then reached toward a handgun in his inner jacket pocket.
The investigation also found that an FBI agent at the scene failed to disclose that he fired two rounds that missed Finicum. The agent, W. Joseph Astarita, has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of making false statements and obstruction of justice. He is listed as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The complaint compares the shooting of a Finicum to the high-profile shooting of a North Korean defector in November 2017. It notes that the North Korean man survived and made it across the border to a friendlier government on the other side.
“The story was captivating, because in the American psyche, the idea of being shot in the back by your own government for trying to cross a border is unthinkable,” the lawsuit said.
It claims Finicum was shot “assassination style” while trying to cross from Harney County into Grant County for a meeting with a sheriff who was sympathetic to the ranchers’ cause.
Dozens of people took over the remote refuge in southeastern Oregon from Jan. 2 to Feb. 11, 2016. They were allowed to come and go for several weeks as authorities tried to avoid bloodshed seen in past standoffs at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
But authorities moved in Jan. 26 when key standoff leaders left the refuge for a community meeting in neighboring Grant County, pulling over two vehicles and arresting the occupiers inside.
Finicum, 54, was driving one vehicle. Video taken by a passenger showed the occupants panicking after authorities stopped the truck.
With his window rolled down, Finicum shouted at officers: “Shoot me, just shoot me! Put the bullet through me.”
Finicum then sped off, coming to a roadblock and plowing into a snowbank.
The complaint says more than a dozen current and former Arizona officials wrote a letter to Oregon’s governor, asking her to conduct a more transparent investigation into what happened next.
“Defendant has refused,” according to the lawsuit.