Agent pleads not guilty to ly­ing about gun­shots in Bundy stand­off.

U.S. at­tor­ney: Stand­off killing was still jus­ti­fied

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

The FBI agent charged Wed­nes­day with ly­ing about fir­ing his gun dur­ing a deadly con­fronta­tion dur­ing the 2016 Ore­gon-Bundy stand­off may be only the tip of the ice­berg.

Deschutes County Sher­iff Shane Nel­son had harsh crit­i­cism Wed­nes­day for mul­ti­ple mem­bers of the FBI Hostage Res­cue Team, say­ing that their ac­tions dur­ing the 41-day siege with sup­port­ers of the anti-fed­eral Bundy fam­ily had “dam­aged the in­tegrity of the en­tire law en­force­ment pro­fes­sion, which makes me both dis­ap­pointed and an­gry.”

His com­ments came dur­ing a press con­fer­ence af­ter FBI agent W. Joseph As­tarita pleaded not guilty to three counts of mak­ing false state­ments and two counts of ob­struc­tion of jus­tice in fed­eral court in Port­land.

But the sher­iff didn’t stop with Mr. As­tarita. He said that he told Jus­tice Depart­ment and FBI of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing now-act­ing Di­rec­tor An­drew McCabe, over a year ago about “pos­si­ble crim­i­nal con­duct by some in­volved FBI HRT (Hostage Res­cue Team) agents.”

“I was dis­ap­pointed when I re­cently heard FBI HRT agents as­so­ci­ated with this case were not placed on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave af­ter the brief­ing by our in­ves­ti­ga­tors to FBI ad­min­is­tra­tion,” said Sher­iff Nel­son. “To­day’s in­dict­ment will en­sure that the de­fen­dant and hope­fully any other cul­pa­ble FBI HRT mem­bers will be held ac­count­able through the jus­tice process.”

No FBI rep­re­sen­ta­tives were present as grim­faced state and fed­eral of­fi­cials dis­cussed the ac­tions of the FBI unit and the agency’s re­sponse.

Mr. As­tarita is the only agent to be in­dicted in con­nec­tion with the oc­cu­pa­tion of a va­cant build­ing at the Mal­heur Na­tional Wildlife Refuge by two dozen armed sup­port­ers of the Bundy fam­ily in a protest against fed­eral lands pol­icy.

He was ac­cused of ly­ing to in­ves­ti­ga­tors about fir­ing his weapon twice af­ter Robert “Lavoy” Finicum plowed his ve­hi­cle into a snow­bank at an FBI road­block.

“Specif­i­cally, As­tarita falsely stated he had not fired his weapon dur­ing the at­tempted ar­rest of Mr. Finicum when he knew he had in fact fired his weapon,” said a state­ment by the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice in Ore­gon.

“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,” said the state­ment.

Mr. Finicum, 54, was shot and killed Jan. 26, 2016, by the Ore­gon State Po­lice when he ap­peared to reach for his jacket, which held a hand­gun. He and oth­ers had taken over a va­cant build­ing at the Mal­heur Na­tional Wildlife Refuge in a protest against fed­eral lands pol­icy.

The shots fired by Mr. As­tarita did not strike Mr. Finicum, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice.

U.S. At­tor­ney Billy J. Wil­liams stressed that the in­dict­ment did not af­fect the out­come of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion led by the Deschutes County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, which found that the shoot­ing was jus­ti­fied.

The charges “do not in any way call into ques­tion the find­ings of the ma­jor in­ci­dent team’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of OSP’s use of deadly force,” said Mr. Wil­liams. “OSP’s ac­tions were jus­ti­fied and nec­es­sary in pro­tect­ing of­fi­cer safety.”

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