Federal Bureau of Investigation agent pleads not guilty to lying about shooting at Lavoy Finicum

A federal grand jury in Portland has charged W. Joseph Astarita, a member of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) based in Quantico, Va., with three counts of making false statements and two counts of obstruction of justice.

An FBI agent assigned to the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in OR previous year is facing a five-count indictment for allegedly lying about his role in the shooting death of one of the occupiers.

Astarita also knowingly engaged in misleading conduct toward Oregon State Police officers by failing to disclose that he had fired two rounds during the attempted arrest.

Astarita is scheduled to have a jury trial on August 29.

Astarita appeared in a packed courtroom and said nothing as a lawyer entered his not guilty pleas for all five counts, according to the Associated Press.

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

Six rounds were fired by the state troopers and two by the FBI, the investigators found.

The indictment of the agent, Joseph Astarita, 40, is a blow to the reputation of the hostage team, which carries out the bureau's riskiest missions in the United States and overseas.

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Finicum was one of the leaders of the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where he and dozens of others demanded the federal government turn the land over to state and local ranchers. After a police chase, state police shot and killed Finicum.

Oregon U.S. Attorney Bill Williams clarified Wednesday that the charges against Astarita did not "call into question the findings of the Major Incident Team's investigation of OSP's use of deadly force". "One shot missed the truck, and the other hit the truck's roof", CNN quoted Deschutes County Sheriff L. Shane Nelson, as saying.

Finicum was en route to a meeting at the John Day Senior Center when law enforcement officers attempted to stop his vehicle, which contained several passengers including Ryan Bundy.

"I don't know that they've ever been put on administrative leave", Nelson said in an interview Thursday.

The investigators concluded that a fourth bullet was sacked into the roof of the truck by an Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who allegedly lied by saying he had not fired his gun.

The FBI a year ago released a 26-minute video of the incident, which showed that Finicum crashed his pickup truck into the snow after speeding away from a surprise traffic block. On Wednesday, speaking after Astarita was indicted and publicly identified, Nelson said Astarita fired the shot that struck the roof of Finicum's vehicle.

Finicum, a 55-year-old Arizona rancher, had traveled to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., to join armed occupiers who had taken over the federal refuge on January 2, 2016, to protest the government's wildlands policies and its treatment of ranchers.

  • Megan Austin