Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Shooting at Robert Lavoy Finicum and Lying About It is Business as Usual for the Feds

Last week saw the indictment of FBI Special Agent W. Joseph Astarita for lying about shots he'd fired during the January 26, 2016 killing of Robert Lavoy Finicum. The Oregonian noted that the prosecution of FBI agents for their official conduct is almost unheard of. The unusual charges were "devastating" to the FBI, commented Danny Coulson, a former head of the bureau's Oregon office. Well, maybe the indictment is so devastating because federal agents are rarely punished for brutal and dishonest behavior. Interestingly, Coulson created and led the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team—the elite force to which Astarita belongs—during the bloody 1992 Ruby Ridge fiasco. He escaped prosecution for his conduct during that mess—for which the federal government paid out over $3 million in damages to survivors—though he spent two years on paid leave (read: vacation). Prosecutions might be rarer still—which is to say, Astarita might be walking free and unconcerned today—if one Oregon sheriff hadn't become thoroughly bent out of shape over federal conduct during last year's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff and then in its aftermath. Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson took on the investigation of the lethal confrontation resulting from what was, to all appearances, an ambush of armed Malheur protesters traveling to a public meeting to discuss their opposition to the treatment of local ranchers in particular, and to federal control of western lands in general. Specifically, Nelson tried to account for the eight shots fired in the incident—six by Oregon state troopers (including those that killed Finicum), none by the protesters, and two by… huh. Because the FBI agents on the scene all denied firing two shots at Finicum (and missing) as he exited his truck. Nelson and his investigators quickly concluded that Astarita had fired the shots, and that he and his colleagues lied about it for reasons of their own. "The actions of the FBI HRT in this case damage the integrity of the entire law enforcement profession, which makes me both disappointed and angry," Sheriff Nelson said after the indictment was announced.Nelson became even angrier when he presented his findings to FBI officials and they did…nothing...more

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