An FBI agent pleaded not guilty to charges related to lying about firing his weapon during the attempted arrest of refuge occupier LaVoy Finicum.
W. Joseph Astarita, a member of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, was indicted by a federal grand jury June 20 on three charges of making a false statement and two charges of obstruction of justice. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges Wednesday in Portland and was released pending future appearances, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Astarita “falsely stated he had not fired his weapon” to FBI and Oregon State Police investigators when he actually fired two rounds, according to the indictment.
Neither round struck Finicum, who was fatally shot by OSP officers after refusing to stop his vehicle and attempting to run a roadblock on Highway 395 between John Day and Burns Jan. 26, 2016. Finicum was a vocal member of the group that occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in early 2016.
Six shots fired by OSP officers, including three that struck Finicum, were determined to be justified by investigators from Malheur and Deschutes counties.
U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams said in a statement, “Special Agent Astarita’s alleged actions that led to this investigation and indictment do not, in any way, call into question the findings of the Major Incident Team’s investigation of OSP’s use of deadly force. OSP’s actions were justified and necessary in protecting officer safety.”
Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson said in a press conference Wednesday one of the two rounds fired by Astarita struck the roof of Finicum’s pickup. He said the investigation is ongoing.
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.
The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General in partnership with the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon investigated the case.