The family of refuge occupier LaVoy Finicum, who was killed by police during a traffic stop en route to John Day, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit seeking at least $70,000,000.
The suit against federal, state and local governments, government agents and others was filed in U.S. District Court two years after Finicum was shot and killed by officers while traveling from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County to a community meeting in John Day.
FBI agents and Oregon State Police officers attempted to stop two vehicles on Highway 395 Jan. 26, 2016. The occupants of one vehicle, including occupation leader Ammon Bundy, were taken into custody when the vehicle was stopped.
Finicum, driving the other vehicle, refused to comply with the officers’ demands, stating he was going to meet with Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer. Continuing north on the highway, Finicum encountered a road block, crashed into a snowbank and exited the vehicle. Officers said Finicum appeared to be reaching for a weapon and shot him, and that they found a 9-millimeter pistol in his pocket. The vehicle’s other occupants, including Ryan Bundy, were taken into custody.
The Central Oregon Major Incident Team led the investigation into Finicum’s death. Harney County District Attorney Tim Colahan also requested that Malheur County District Attorney Dan Norris review the investigation, which determined the six shots fired by OSP officers, including the three that killed him, were justified.
Two additional shots, which did not hit Finicum, reportedly fired by an FBI Hostage Rescue Team member were referred for further investigation, and agent W. Joseph Astarita was indicted on charges of lying to investigators about firing the shots.
Astarita is among the numerous defendants listed in the suit, as are the FBI and OSP.
The suit compares Finicum’s shooting in Harney County to a defector who was shot by North Korean officials in November as he crossed the demilitarized zone into South Korea, stating “... in the American psyche, the idea of being shot in the back by your own government for trying to cross a border — is unthinkable.”
The suit argues government agents targeted Finicum for his involvement in the 2014 Bunkerville, Nevada, standoff, where Bureau of Land Management and FBI agents had a confrontation with rancher Cliven Bundy, father of Ammon and Ryan, over unpaid grazing fees. It states the occupiers were attempting a “lawful adverse possession” claim and had not broken any laws.
The suit lists Finicum’s widow, Jeanette, their 12 children and the estate of LaVoy Finicum as plaintiffs and seeks at least $5 million for each from a collection of defendants: the United States of America, FBI, Bureau of Land Management, BLM employee Daniel Love, BLM law enforcement director Salvatore Lauro, former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the refuge occupation Greg Bretzing, FBI agent Joseph Astarita, the state of Oregon, Oregon State Police, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, Harney County, Harney County Sheriff David Ward, former Harney County Judge Steve Grasty, the Center for Biological Diversity and “John Does 1-100” — described as other unknown federal and state employees — according to the complaint.