LaVoy Finicum shooting: Prosecutors seeking missing shell casings, metal fragment from Ryan Bundy’s shoulder

By Maxine Bernstein The Oregonian/OregonLive Posted 8-3-2017

The case against an FBI agent charged with lying about firing two shots at Oregon standoff spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum most likely will turn on expert testimony about the validity of the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office investigation, a defense lawyer said Thursday.

No one reported that they saw or heard agent W. Joseph Astarita fire and no direct evidence exists linking any bullet or shell casing to Astarita’s rifle, one of his lawyers said.

Prosecutors countered that the investigation continues and revealed for the first time that not only are shell casings from Astarita’s alleged shots missing, but so are shell casings from some of the Oregon State Police shots fired at the Jan. 26, 2016, roadblock.

“Eight shots were fired. Six shell casings in roadway are all gone,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Pam Holsinger, chief of the Criminal Division in the Oregon U.S. Attorney’s Office. She didn’t elaborate.

State troopers fired six of the eight shots, with the other two eventually linked to Astarita, investigators and prosecutors said.

The Oregonian/OregonLive previously reported two bullet casings that might have proven an FBI agent shot at Finicum apparently disappeared from the scene.

The shooting came as state police and FBI agents stopped key figures of the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as they left the bird sanctuary for a community meeting in John Day.

Astarita, who continues to work for the FBI in an administrative role, was indicted in late June and has pleaded not guilty to three counts of making a false statement and two counts of obstruction of justice.

He is accused of concealing from Oregon investigators that he fired his rifle and lying to three supervisory FBI agents about his shots.

Lawyers from both sides of the case met for a brief status conference in federal court in Portland. The case has been designated as complex and a trial date was rescheduled for Feb. 27.

David Angeli, one of four criminal defense lawyers retained by Astarita, signaled that his client likely will challenge the forensic analysis and “modeling” done by the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, which was tasked with investigating the Finicum shooting.

The defense may question whether the sheriff’s investigators were qualified to conduct the work and if their conclusions are valid, Angeli said.

The investigators established that a bullet entered Finicum’s truck through the roof as he was stepping out at the roadblock on U.S. 395 in Harney County and concluded Astarita fired it. Another bullet from Astarita apparently went wild and missed the truck altogether, the investigation showed.

The detectives also found that state troopers fired three shots into Finicum’s truck as it was barreling toward the roadblock and three more shots that struck Finicum, killing him after he had emerged from his truck and reached inside his jacket. He was carrying a loaded 9mm pistol in a pocket, authorities said.

As he crashed in a snowbank at the roadblock, Finicum nearly struck another FBI agent with his truck, investigators said.

The troopers reported their shots, yet it’s unclear why four casings from their shots weren’t found at the scene.

The indictment says Astarita, who served as a member of the elite FBI Hostage Rescue Team, “falsely stated he had not fired his weapon during the attempted arrest of Robert LaVoy Finicum, when he knew then and there that he had fired his weapon.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Maloney also noted that discussions are underway with the lawyer representing Ryan Bundy, one of the occupation leaders who was in the back seat of Finicum’s truck.

Investigators want to recover a “metallic object” in Bundy’s shoulder, Maloney said. They want to analyze it as potential evidence in the case.

So far, the government has provided Astarita’s lawyers with two volumes of discovery evidence, representing more than 8,000 pages, as well as audiotapes and video. Two more volumes of evidence will be shared, including all the officer-involved shooting reports and data from the examination of five computers and multiple cellphones, Holsinger said.

The government expects to call experts as witnesses to testify about the sheriff’s office analysis of the ballistic evidence and video of the shooting.

Based on the evidence he’s reviewed so far, Angeli said there’s no witness identified who reported seeing or hearing Astarita fire a shot, and Astarita didn’t tell anybody he fired a shot.

In March 2016, the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office and FBI announced that an FBI agent was suspected of firing twice at Finicum and may have gotten help from four other FBI agents in covering up afterward. No other agent has been charged in the case.

Holsinger noted that the FBI agents under investigation had a union lawyer at the time the criminal inquiry began.

Posted in Court, FBI, LaVoy Finicum, Maulher, The Oregonian.

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  1. Obviously Ryan is going to be very careful about who will remove the bullet and where the bullet is removed from his shoulder. Then after it’s removed, who would retain custody of the bullet? If not the feds, then how will that custody be obtained? How will the continuous custody be verified between the time of removal and its presentation at the prospective trial to ensure at the trial that the bullet is indeed the one removed from Ryan’s shoulder?

    Presumably having once tried to get the bullet (in the Portland jail), the feds are not going to easily give up ultimate custody of the bullet. Getting that bullet into the custody of the prosecution of LaVoy’s murderers is going to be difficult.

  2. Two shots fired by FBI at LaVoy as he exited the Truck was attempted murder.. LaVoy was shot 3 times in the back by OR SP that was murder.. LaVoy held his hands over his head as long as he could but after being shot in the back three times he could no longer hold his hands up..

  3. looking for empty casings is just a distraction now.. The Feds thought they could lie and cover up an attempted murder.. 20 Law Enforcement Goons had their body cams turned off while executing a planned assassination .. You have to establish a chain of command from the time they were picked off the ground.. Seems some OR SP stated the FBI were huddled around with a flash light and picked something up out of the snow ..

    They should be investigating attempted murder the two FBI shots as laVoy exited the truck and Murder the three times LaVoy was shot with his hands high in the air .. LaVoy never dropped his hands until he had been shot the third time ..

  4. Since the killer/killers of an unarmed American Citizen cannot be found, I am offering a “REWARD”. To start with, I am offering a “REWARD” of $5,000 for any information leading up to and the arrest of the Domestic Terrorist/Terrorists that shot an unarmed American Citizen named Robert Lavoy Finicum. I will offer this “Reward” money until the Domestic Terrorist/Terrorists are found and held accountable for killing an unarmed American Patriot, Robert Lavoy Finicum.

  5. Seems to me about the only way they could get the bullet from Ryan’s shoulder safely to the prosecution is for two trusted Sheriff’s deputies to be present when it is removed and for them to take the bullet to the prosecution.

  6. I’m guessing the DOJ doesn’t want Astarita’s case going on at the same time the Bunkerville trials are happening. It might tend to make people more sympathetic to the defendants in Nevada.

    • he didn’t have a 9mm in his pocket. that was a lie and the weapon that was recovered was placed in his pocket after the shooting. Every account they have provided has been proven to be inaccurate. This is total BS. They are going to allow the Oregon State Troopers to be off the hook for the MURDER and the FBI wont have to answer for it either. This is a dog and pony show and the longer they keep the show going, the more likely that people will forget about it until they can simply make it go away. DO NOT EVER FORGET THIS OR ALLOW ANY OF THOSE MURDERERS TO WALK AWAY WITHOUT BEING HELD ACCOUNTABLE. State or Federal, THEY NEED TO KNOW THIS IS FAR FROM OVER. Every single law enforcement officer that was on that ambush site, and every federal agent, and those in their chains of command all need to be held accountable for this MURDER.

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