Tuesday, February 6, 2018

FBI Agent Seeks Dismissals in Oregon Standoff Shooting Charges

Prosecutors say witness testimony, audio and video evidence, plus bullet trajectory analysis yielded one conclusion: FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita lied about firing two shots at the truck of refuge occupation spokesman Robert "LaVoy" Finicum in 2016 after he swerved into a snowbank.

The information is detailed in a 32-page government response to Astarita's motion to dismiss the federal indictment against him. He's pleaded not guilty to three counts of making false statements and two counts of obstruction of justice. Astarita's lawyer claimed the indictment was based on "junk science.''

The government response also reveals that Oregon State Police SWAT troopers at the scene, ordinarily required to wear body cameras, didn't that day at the request of the FBI. The FBI did obtain video from FBI surveillance planes flying above the scene.

State police detectives also normally record interviews of officers who might be involved in a shooting, but they didn't that night when questioning the FBI Hostage Rescue Team members, again at the FBI's request. A follow-up interview with the hostage team members also came with unusual conditions, prosecutors note.
I have followed the Oregon stand off previously and we have  seen that it was pretty clear that the FBI agent fired the first shot from behind and above the vehicle, and then lied about it. I don't really want to believe that the FBI went there with the object of initiating a fire fight and killing someone, but demanding that the Oregon State Police not collect the video seems to suggest that they had something in mind.

The FBI also played some interesting games with the State Police's investigation of the shooting.
Deschutes County investigators shared their concerns about missing evidence and unaccounted-for shots with FBI officials in the days after the shooting. I.M., the FBI supervisor who had first questioned Astarita, also expressed frustration to another FBI leader about Astarita's odd response to his routine question. More FBI supervisory agents spoke with Astarita.

On Feb. 6, 2016, two state police detectives reinterviewed Astarita, but by then the hostage rescue team agents knew there were unaccounted-for gunshots and missing shell casings. The agents set conditions for the interview: They could only be interviewed as a group, the interview couldn't be recorded and their lawyer could be present on a speakerphone.

The state police detectives found those conditions "particularly an unrecorded group interview - odd and problematic, but reluctantly agreed to them, believing that the alternative would be no interview at all,''  prosecutors wrote.

B.M., the leader of Astarita's team, served as the "spokesman'' for the group and did most of the talking. The hostage rescue team agents conveyed individually and through their spokesman that they didn't fire any shots.
Sound almost like the DOJ interviews of the Clinton crowd in the email scandal.

It's hard to know what might have happened if Astarita hadn't fired shots into the vehicle, but I think there's a reasonable chance that Finicum might not have come out the vehicle spoiling for fight, and a senseless death could have been prevented.

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