There is much speculation about the recent death of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, a rancher–as far as we know–involved in the recent standoff with the federal government over their occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. I say “as far as we know,” because the Media is calling everyone on his side of the standoff a rancher, and we know how accurate the Media is about such things. Some are calling it another Ruby Ridge or Waco, and there are claims that at least 100 rounds were fired by the FBI, and that Finicum was trying to surrender when shot in the face.
I have not, to date, written about this situation because I have had no resources beyond pure speculation. That has changed, to at least a small extent, though it is possible that we may never know with absolute certainty what happened. That, by the way, is not unusual, and is not necessarily due to the government trying to cover things up, though that certainly does occur.
Bob Owens at Bearing Arms has some pertinent comments and an embedded video shot by the FBI from an aircraft, which Bob calls a plane. The relatively slow movement of the camera, pattern of flight, would seem to suggest a helicopter.
The video, which lasts just over eight minutes, has been edited by the FBI, and it is possible to spot the more obvious editing here and there, but without better equipment, it’s not possible spot all possible editing, at least not to any degree that might help one understand what had been edited and why.
Here’s a general timeline of the video, and my observations, for what little they are worth at this point. Please keep in mind my time notations are based entirely on the video timestamps, and could easily be a second or two off:
The scene is a clear, two-land asphalt road through a heavily forested area. Heavy snow is everywhere but on the roadway, and it is particularly heavy at the edges of the road, which has very narrow, or no, shoulders. This is common in such areas as snowplows continually build up the snow on the shoulders.
The ranchers are traveling in a white extended cab pickup with a topper on the bed, and have obviously been under observation by the FBI for some time.
1:06: Two police vehicles–probably Oregon State Patrol–make a traffic stop of the pickup, which stops in the center of the road. For the next several minutes, from 4-6 officers are apparently trying to talk the occupants of the pickup out of the vehicle. They stay by their vehicles, using them for cover, though at one point one officer tries to flank the pickup on the passenger side, but the snow is obviously too deep and/or treacherous; he soon returns to the police vehicles.
2:50: The camera zooms out and backtracks, some distance behind police vehicles, where what appears to be a Jeep is parked on the roadway. I can ‘t tell if that is a police vehicle or merely someone happening onto the action ahead.
3:57: The camera has returned to the traffic stop, and nothing appears to have changed. One can see the brake lights, and/or backup lights occasionally activating on the pickup, but no one is ever seen to leave the vehicle, and the police don’t approach it.
NOTE: From time to time, I saw what appeared to be a red glow on the top of the pickup, at the gap between the cab of the truck and the topper. It’s not visible from every angle. I at first thought it to be a laser sight from the FBI aircraft, but it’s far less sinister. The owner of the truck apparently did not disable the red brake light at the top center of the cab when installing the topper. It is the brake light occasionally being activated that is making the glow against the white truck and topper.
4:40: A graphic is displayed noting that the pickup stayed motionless for about 3.47.
4:49: The video fades back in, and the pickup almost immediately accelerates away, and continues for what appears to be at least a mile, where a roadblock of three police vehicles suddenly comes into view.
5:00: During the flight of the pickup, at this point, there is an obvious jump cut. There is no way to tell what was removed or why, or how long that segment might have been.
5:50: As the pickup approaches the roadblock, it hesitates only fractionally and tries to drive around the roadblock, but it immediately becomes stuck in the snow. It appears that the right rear side of the pickup actually struck one of the officers, knocking him to his knees, as it passed. It takes him a relatively short time to rise, but he does so slowly, appears to be limping, and may have been injured. It also appears that the officer, for reasons unknown, actually moved toward the truck as it left the road.
As soon as the pickup comes to a halt, the driver’s door flies open, and Finicum steps out, his arms raised. The door quickly closes, which is likely due to the grade at the shoulder–the passenger’s side of the pickup is canted substantially lower than the driver’s side.
Two officers are covering Finicum in a sort of “L” configuration. One officer is more or less behind the pickup, and the other further into the woods on the driver’s side. Neither officer has concealment or cover. These appear to be OSP officers, but I can’t tell with any degree of certainty. The pickup came to rest only about one car length from the parked police vehicles.
6:00: Finicum, more or less facing the officer behind the pickup, drops his hands, and appears to be reaching for something in or near his waistband. He quickly raises his hands again, but turns toward the other officer, again dropping his hands.
6:08: Finicum falls to his back and is not seen to move thereafter, though it would be impossible to detect any small movements due to the relatively low lighting, the lack of definition, etc.
I cannot see any sign of gunshots, but the backdrop is clean white snow, which would tend to mask any muzzle flash and/or gun smoke. My impression is that no more than two rounds were fired, perhaps one from each officer. My impression is that it was the second officer toward which Finicum turned that fired, but again, I could easily be mistaken. However, there was very little time; Finicum fell immediately, and I could see no sign of further gunfire.
From that point, the officers throw at least three flashbangs in an apparent attempt to get the others to get out of the pickup. They do not comply, and the detonations of the flashbangs are clear and easy to discern.
6:55: At the front passenger’s side window of the pickup, I see what appears to be a disturbance in what may be snow on the roof of the pickup, as if something moving fast struck the truck, or perhaps a gun was fired out that window. There is no obvious breaking glass, no muzzle flash, just that sudden disturbance, like what one would expect of snow being forcibly blown up and outward by a sudden blast from a compressed air hose. It is even possible that a snowball, thrown by one of the officers, was the cause of what I saw.
I doubt that it was gunfire, only because a police officer is standing, no more than a car length away, in plain sight of the passenger’s window of the pickup, and he makes no obvious sign of surprise, nor does he move as if in potential danger.
7:20: Another more or less identical disturbance occurs at the same place on the pickup. Again, it’s impossible to tell what causes it. This time, the police officer is standing behind a police vehicle, keeping it between himself and the pickup.
7:49: The video ends. No one has exited the pickup, and the officers are not approaching it. Finicum appears to be in the same position as when he first fell to his back on the snow.
NOTE: Go here for what is billed as the complete, unedited video of the incident, apparently submitted by the FBI to You Tube. It is 26:28 long, and shows only longer sections of the same things I’ve already described. There is a longer showing of the initial stop, and again, no one leaves the cab of the pickup, and the officers do not approach. When the pickup suddenly accelerates and flees, there is no apparent action on the part of the officers that causes that flight. There is no difference in the shooting sequence.
The aircraft slowly circles the stuck pickup. As it does, one has a clear view only when the camera is at the rear and front of the vehicle. Side views are mostly obscured by tall trees. What appear to be four men eventually, individually, exit the driver’s side of the vehicle, and are directed, with their hands up, to the roadway, and professionally and safely taken into custody. They appear to be uninjured, but of course, it’s not possible to be sure. Shortly thereafter, officers clear the vehicle, and attend to Finicum, who apparently still has not moved.
At several points, I can see what could possibly be bullet impacts on the windshield of the vehicle, at least one, and possibly two, however, it is also possible what I see could be nothing more than something white or light colored sitting on the dashboard under the windshield. The quality of the video makes it impossible to tell. Even if these were bullet impacts, such as the earlier disturbances at the passenger’s window, we have no idea what caused the officers to fire, there is no clearly apparent damage to the vehicle, and this would raise the number of rounds fired in the “shootout” by the police to perhaps six. Without understanding why the officers fired–if they did–there is no way to judge the legitimacy of such firing.
Clearly, there was substantial mistrust on both sides in this entire situation. However, the officers at the original stop did not appear to act aggressively, and seemed willing to try to talk the ranchers out of the white pickup. I could see no apparent sign of gunfire from anyone at the initial stop, and the pickup appears to be undamaged.
Due to the fade out in the shorter video, it is impossible to tell what caused the pickup to leave, and the longer video is no more revealing, however, once stopped by the police, anyone that leaves without permission is going to be pursued, and by leaving without permission, virtually always has committed a high level misdemeanor, and in some states, a felony.
In many respects, this is a perfect road for a police pursuit. There is no other traffic anywhere in sight, and the pursuing officers, knowing there is a roadblock ahead, do not push the pickup. They keep a reasonable–and substantial–distance behind it.
While Finicum did initially have his hands up in a surrender gesture, he never stopped moving. This alone would have made any officer very concerned. When he dropped both of his hands to his waist, I imagine the first officer–the one behind the pickup–immediately warned him not to move or to put his hands back up. I saw no sign of shots from that officer or the other officer, nor did Finicum obviously react to bullet impacts. Rather, he momentarily raised his arms again, apparently responding to the officer’s commands.
Then, while turning toward the second officer, he again quickly and aggressively dropped his hands, and at this point, immediately went limp and fell, indicating probable massive neurological trauma. In other words, he appeared to have been hit in the brain or brain stem, and did not obviously move again from that moment.
Again, the officers are in no hurry to approach the pickup. Apparently satisfied that Finicum represents no further threat, they all retreat behind the cover of their vehicles and appear, for the most part, to stay there. While the video is running, they make no overtly aggressive moves toward the pickup. Some may argue that flashbangs are inherently aggressive, but when detonated in the outdoors, in daylight, particularly when at least partially muffled by deep snow, they are essentially little more than noisemakers, having no stunning or disorienting effect. This would be particularly true for the occupants of the pickup. Flashbang effectiveness pretty much requires indoor lighting levels and small, enclosed spaces. With this in mind, I’m not sure why the police would be using them. Surely they would understand this?
There are no obvious signs of gunshots, though clearly, at least one or two were fired at and struck Finicum. There appears to be no “gun fight” or “shootout” as many media sources and others have claimed. If so, it did not take place during the run of the video, and as the others taken into custody appear to have been uninjured, as were the officers–with one possible exception–it’s reasonable to conclude there was nothing resembling a gun fight until there is much more conclusive evidence to prove otherwise.
As to the shooting of Finicum, it appears to be justified. Reportedly, a loaded 9mm handgun was found in his coat pocket where he was reaching. Some have claimed that Finicum always carried a .45, but first reports are almost always wrong, and we can be reasonably sure only that Finicum may have been carrying a handgun of some sort, which would surely have been likely.
Even if Finicum were not armed, his actions, and the circumstances, would have led any reasonable officer to believe they were in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death, providing ample justification to shoot Finicum. That they apparently waited for a second aggressive and potentially deadly motion from him before firing speaks well of their professional competence and reluctance to fill the air with lead, as some police officers do in far less threatening circumstances.
Remember too that both of these officers would have seen their fellow officer, apparently struck by the pickup and injured. In fact, the officer behind the pickup passed within inches of the potentially injured officer as he was still on his knees in the snow, as he moved toward Finicum.
Why is this important? Add to their knowledge of the danger the fact of the high-speed pursuit and flight from fellow officers. Add also the very real possibility that the driver of the pickup–Finicum–may have purposely tried to hit a fellow officer with his truck. From the moment they laid eyes on him, they would have considered him a dangerous felon, and a potential killer, yet they seem to have waited for a second overtly threatening gesture before firing, and even then, apparently fired the minimum number of rounds necessary to end the immediate threat.
Is it possible I’m missing things? Of course. Could the officers have fired shots that are in the portion of the video not shown? Possible, but again, I see no signs of damage on the truck, and viewers can see it from many angles. In addition, at no time do the police obviously react like officers under fire, or expecting hostile fire. Indeed, they take reasonable protective measures. They have their weapons drawn and covering the pickup, and they mostly stay behind the cover of their vehicles, but I can detect no obvious police gunfire, or overt hostilities.
Anyone is legally justified in resisting, with force, an unlawful arrest. The trick is in knowing when one is occurring. The police are also authorized to use whatever force is necessary to make an arrest.
One can argue about resistance to the government, governmental overreach, etc., and regular readers know I do not hesitate to criticize the government and the police when there is reason to believe they are wrong or have acted unlawfully. But in virtually every imaginable circumstance, the smart thing to do when challenged by the police is to do as they command. If they have violated procedure or the law, if they have made a false arrest, one can deal with that later. Collecting, and enjoying the fruits of, civil judgments is rather difficult to do when one is dead.
In this case, again, judging only by what even the FBI admits is an edited video, the officers made a legitimate traffic stop. The people in the pickup fled the officers, committing a significant offense in the process. Finicum, if driving the truck as he appears to have been, put the officers and occupants of the truck in danger by trying to bypass the roadblock, and might be chargeable with attempted murder for striking the officer (even if he didn’t intend such, recklessness is often an element of such crimes). Then, Finicum gave the officers more than reasonable cause to believe he was reaching for a gun–twice.
The complete and apparently unedited video–and I can’t detect any obvious signs of editing–reveals nothing of obvious importance that the shorter video did not. In fact, the officers appear to have behaved with restraint and professionalism throughout.
For the moment, the actions of the police appear to be reasonable and within the law.
I will, of course, continue to keep an eye open, and update as necessary.