Family of Robert “Lavoy” Finicum files wrongful death lawsuit

Katie Aguilera

Two years after Robert “Lavoy” Finicum was shot and killed by Oregon State Police officers on Highway 395 in Harney County on January 26, 2016, the Finicum family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a slew of defendants.  These include the United States, FBI, BLM, Oregon State Police, Harney County, a number of officials from those agencies, the Center for Biological Diversity, and 100 ‘John Does,’ among others.

The lawsuit was filed Friday, January 26, 2018 by lawyers Lisa Ludwig and J. Morgan Philpot in US District court in Pendleton, Oregon.

The 48-page complaint states, “the murder of LaVoy was plainly unlawful under rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and also…unlawful under other laws of the United States and the laws of the State of Oregon.  It was the result of a brutally deliberate course of action willfully set in place and caused by a small selection of county, state, and federal officials who are named as defendants in this lawsuit.  These defendants were mentally predisposed and committed to using excessive lethal force, to solve a political dispute.”

It goes on to describe the events that led to the shooting of Finicum on January 26, 2016, beginning with the Bunkerville, Nevada standoff in April, 2014.  It claims that Finicum was intentionally targeted because of his association with Cliven Bundy and family, his membership in the Church of Latter-day Saints, and his “political views and statements regarding land rights and federal government overreach—specifically, his consistent political activism and statements that were critical of the BLM.”

The complaint claims that law enforcement and the BLM deliberately mischaracterized Finicum as being a threat to law enforcement and government employees by willfully participating in the “spreading of false and maliciously inaccurate information.”  It goes on to state the BLM and FBI kept an active file on Finicum, and that “Defendant Love [Former BLM employee, Daniel P. Love] and other John Doe defendants fabricated information, edited, omitted, or reported misleading information from this file, and added misleading information to this file, for the purpose of intentionally creating the false impression that LaVoy Finicum was associated with militia and presented a risk of violence to law enforcement…”

This misinformation, according to the lawsuit, “contributed directly to the subsequent shooting death of LaVoy Finicum.”

Also in the complaint are details about the January 2, 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon by Finicum and others.  It states a meeting took place on January 2, 2016, between Ammon Bundy and others, discussing Bundy’s plan to move the protest to the Refuge in an attempt at “adverse possession.”  According to the complaint, this meeting was openly attended by a Harney County deputy sheriff.

The complaint alleges that the defendants worked to control the narrative in order to keep the adverse possession claim out of public discourse.  It states, “these defendants ignored legal advice and counsel that suggested that the appropriate course of action would be legal notice and possible trespass charge—by local law enforcement and local civil court actions.  These same defendants also ignored advice from local legal authorities, that no law had been broken by the attempted adverse possession.”

“Instead, Defendants…willfully decided to fight a public political battle, and demanded that the FBI, BLM, and DOJ take the lead and bring the occupation to a close by force.”

It goes on to point out that there were never any eviction notices or complaints of trespass during the occupation of the Refuge.  Also, that as of January 26, 2016, “there was no criminal complaint, no probable cause affidavit, no federal indictments, or any other formal proceeding to inform—let alone argue—that LaVoy Finicum or any other occupier was being accused of breaking the law.”  This includes the time of the initial January 26, 2016 traffic stop and subsequent roadblock, where Finicum was shot and killed.

The lawsuit claims that Oregon State Police and FBI agents executed a “deadman’s roadblock” in violation of police procedure and the Constitution on January 26, 2016.  It states, “the roadblock had been strategically placed so as to prevent it from being visible until impact was a near certainty for any vehicle traveling at posted speeds.”

The complaint also discusses the actions of FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita during the roadblock, who is currently facing charges for his alleged attempt to cover up the fact that he allegedly fired his weapon twice after Finicum crashed into the snowbank to avoid the roadblock.  It claims that one of these shots resulted in the wounding of Ryan Bundy, who still has a piece of metal in his shoulder that may or may not be a bullet or bullet fragment.

The shooting of Lavoy Finicum was ruled as justified by Oregon officials.  The officers involved stated that Finicum was reaching into his jacket pocket which they say they later found held a loaded pistol.  Video of the shooting shows Finicum exit his truck with his arms up, however, as he moves away from the truck he drops his arms twice, and before he is shot three times, he appears to reach for his side.

Early in the occupation of the Refuge, in an interview, Finicum had said, “I’m not going to end up in prison.  I would rather die than be caged.  And I’ve lived a good life.”

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