The family of Robert "LaVoy" Finicum, the slain spokesman for the militia that has been occupying a wildlife refuge in Oregon, has challenged the official account of his shooting death offered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The feds claim that Finicum was reaching for his gun when state troopers opened fire during a confrontation on Tuesday, but a witness linked to the militia now claims that the 54-year-old Finicum had his hands up and was not posing any threat.
On Thursday, the FBI released aerial video of the incident to the public. The grainy footage shows Finicum fleeing from authorities in a white truck after an attempted traffic stop. Finicum exits the truck after swerving into a deep snowbank to avoid a police barricade. The footage shows the Arizona rancher turning and waving his arms around as two officers approach him, apparently raising their weapons. He can be seen lowering his arms before falling to the ground.
Greg Bretzing, special agent in charge of the FBI's Portland office, told reporters on Thursday that the agency decided to release the footage to refute claims that Finicum was needlessly killed. Bretzing contends that Finicum was reaching for his jacket pocket, where officers later found a loaded 9mm semi-automatic handgun.
The poor quality of the video makes it difficult to confirm the FBI's version of events.
"LaVoy was not 'charging' anyone," Finicum's family said in a statement issued by their attorney Todd MacFarlane. "He appears to have been shot in the back, with his hands in the air. At this point we will await the outcome of any investigation, but based on the information currently available to us, we do not believe that LaVoy's shooting death was justified."
The statement added that while Finicum "may have been animated, he does not appear to have been threatening or posing any real threat or danger to anyone."
Victoria Sharp, an 18-year-old woman who was reportedly a passenger in Finicum's truck and witnessed the shooting, alleges that his gun remained holstered.
"He opened the door and got out and said, 'If you're gonna shoot us, just shoot me,'" Sharp said during a videotaped interview published by Reuters. "He had his hands up and was walking toward his vehicle."
"I didn't think they'd actually shoot him because he was not being threatening at all," she added.
Reuters reported that police declined to comment on Sharp's allegations.
'I didn't think they'd actually shoot him because he was not being threatening at all.'
On Friday, about two dozen protesters gathered outside the courthouse in Harney County, where the wildlife refuge is located and where the shooting occurred. Monte Siegner, a 79-year-old rancher, held up a sign that read "ambushed and assassinated," and insisted that Finicum was killed needlessly.
"He got out with his hands up in the deep snow," Siegner told Reuters. "I didn't see any gun."
Another protester, 54-year-old Cam Ray, said that Finicum's death appeared to be avoidable.
"It's kind of like murder, it looks like to me," Ray said. "They had every chance to take them peacefully."
On Friday, four armed protesters were still occupying the remote refuge, located 30 miles from Burns, a small ranching town in southeast Oregon. The FBI has said it is working "around the clock" to negotiate with the holdouts.
Ammon Bundy, the leader behind the weeks-long occupation, was arrested on Tuesday during the same traffic stop where Finicum was killed. Bundy was riding in a second vehicle behind Finicum's truck. Ryan Bundy, Ammon's younger brother, was also arrested, along with four others. The brothers are being held without bail pending trial on felony conspiracy charges.
Since his arrest, Bundy has sent messages through his attorney, urging those still holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to stand down. Bundy says they will continue to fight federal land policy through the courts.
Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen
Watch the VICE News documentary The Oregon Standoff: A Community Divided