We covered the death of Oregon “Bundy” protest spokesperson Robert “LaVoy” Finicum during a felony traffic stop earlier in the week briefly, and were rather stunned at some of the responses we received. Because of this, we’ve decided to try to explain this incident in more detail for the purposes of educating our readers.
Since January 2, a group of armed protesters has occupied the headquarters complex of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in remote Harney County, Oregon. The protest was led by Ammond Bundy, a son of Cliven Bundy, who participated in militarized standoff against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) at their ranch in Nevada after the federal government attempted to forcefully resolve a multi-decade land dispute over grazing rights. That is a story for another time.
Local, state, and federal law enforcement dealt with the situation at the Malheur NWR with great restraint, and let protesters, activists, media and others go in and out of the area virtually unchallenged, merely keeping watch and presumably collecting information. It was not uncommon for different activists to leave and return to Malheur. In fact, Ammond Bundy drove to meet with representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation earlier in the week, and returned to the refuge a short time later.
On Tuesday, January 26, government officials apparently decided that they had an opportunity to capture the majority of the protest leadership. Two vehicles were leaving the headquarters at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in order to drive to a public meeting at the John Day Senior Center in Grant County, where hundreds of people were waiting. Some of those in attendance were there to protest the occupation of the Refuge, but it is very worth noting that the bulk of those who came did so to protest the government’s mismanagement of the Maheur forest.
One of those vehicles was driven by Mark McConnell, Ammond Bundy’s bodyguard.
The other vehicle was driven by LaVoy Finicum.
On the two-lane highway between the Malheur NWR headquarters and John Day, officers with the Oregon State Police and agents of the FBI conducted simultaneous felony stops of both vehicles, separated by several hundred yards. Everyone in the vehicle driven by McConnell surrendered peacefully and were detained without issue.
Finicum, however, refused to turn off his vehicle and that is where video from an airplane providing surveillance over the operation picks up. This video is the full sequence of events from that moment on.
After 8 minutes and 12 seconds of the airplane circling a standoff featuring Finicum’s white truck straddling the center line and two SUVs of law enforcement officers dispersed some 25 yards behind them, Finicum’s brake lights go off and he takes off down the two lane highway at a high rate of speed. The road in this section of the forest is a series of gentle curves. Finicum accelerates down a short straight section of road faster than he can control into on-coming traffic, almost completely over the centerline. Fortunately, Oregon State Police had already stopped traffic flowing in the other direction, or Finicum very well could have killed a father and daughter in Jeep who became witnesses to what happened next.
Oregon State Police had thrown several pickups and an SUV across the road in a hasty blocking position, and sent agents into the woods on each flank in positions to catch “squirters.” in case there was a foot pursuit. They clearly didn’t anticipate Finicum driving as fast as he did in questionable conditions. Finicum came flying around the curve at 9:15 into the video—just 1 minute and three seconds into his escape attempt—and turns into the snowbank on the inside of the curve. Some have suggested that Finicum was attempting to drive around the three vehicles blocking the two-lane road. I rather strongly suspect that he was simply attempting to avoid a head-on collision as he was going far too fast to stop.
As the moment Finicum’s truck begins to leave the roadway there are five law enforcement officers ahead of them. One is off-camera in the treeline to the left, posed to head off any foot pursuit. Another is known to be behind the dark gray or black pickup in a blocking position on the inside of the curve. Three more officers are stacked behind tailgate of the silver pickup in the blocking position on the outside of the curve.
The OSP officer behind the tailgate of the dark pickup darts towards Finicum’s truck as it hits the snowbank. While it’s purely speculation on my park, I’m assuming that he expected Finicum’s pickup to carom off the snow back into the pickup, and he was trying to get clear of the vehicle. Instead of bouncing off the snowbank, however, Finicum’s pickup lowed through the snow, and the OSP officer had to throw himself the other way at the last second to avoid being run over. He avoided being hit by a matter of perhaps two feet.
The aircraft camera overshoots the scene, pulls back, catches one of the pursing vehicles closing in, and finally zooms back out to frame the situation at 9:21. At this point, the officer in the treeline to the left is still off-camera. The officer who was almost run over is on his knees, attempting to recover. The three officers who were behind the silver pickup on the outside of the curve on the right are already surging towards Finicum’s truck, which had come to a stop. Finicum’s door is already open and he is several steps out of the vehicle.
Just one second later Finicum is several feet away from his vehicle with his hands in the air, facing the officer in the treeline that we still can’t see from this perspective. It is obviously this officer who told Finicum to raise his hands. That, or he likes raising his hands to squirrels.
The officer who was nearly hit is still recovering, but on his knees. The three other officers are posting up and drawing down on the passengers in Finicum’s truck from a position between the silver SUV and the black pickup. We can’t know precisely what they see, but it’s possible that because the height of the snowbank and the way Finicum’s pickup is tilted that they may not even see Lavoy. If they do, they certainly don’t see much more than his hands in the air, his head, and maybe his shoulders.
Finicum’s hands are still up high and wide as he takes several steps back towards his original direction of travel. There is minor positional movement one of the three officers clustered near the SUV as he begins moving to get behind the OSP officer who was nearly run over, who appears to be on his knees still.
The officer in the treeline is still not clear. The officer who stepped behind the officer who was down continues across towards our left, and has his sidearm drawn and aimed at Finicum. At this moment, Finicum’s hands are still raised.
Finicum catches his right toe in the snow, partially stumbles, recovers, and puts his weight on his right leg as the camera in the airplane zooms in. Finicum can clearly see the OSP trooper on the end of the snowbank by the road who is pointing a handgun at him, and has been aware of the officer still hidden by the treeline since the moment he stepped out of the vehicle and raised his hands. Put bluntly, Finicum knows he has at least two guns on him in a crossfire situation.
Finicum takes several steps forward, turns his head towards the officer with the handgun coming over the snowbank, and drops his hands a second time, his left hand reaching towards the hem of his coat.
Finicum stumbles and quickly re-raises his hands. The officer who had nearly been run over is now on his feet and moving for cover, his back Finicum’s truck. He is no part of the confrontation at all. The OSP officer moving from the snowbank is now directly behind Finicum’s truck. He appears to have his gun extended. We still can’t see the OSP officer in the treeline, but we know he’s moving.
Finicum hesitates. He drops his hands to his side a third time.
Finicum re-raises his hands halfway but only halfway, and turns to square up on the officer with the handgun. He’s in a classic “ready” position, familiar to any competition shooter or defensive handgun student.
Finicum drops his hands a final, and turns towards the officer who is now moving forward out of the treeline. He is making movements consistent with drawing a weapon, what is typically known in legal circles as a “furtive gesture.” He’s doing almost exactly what got Tamir Rice shot in Cleveland.
Finicum pulls his jacket open with his left hand and reaches inside with his right hand as he continues turning towards the officer emerging from the treeline. This is a man who has been told repeatedly to keep his hands up, who knows he is being covered by two police officers with guns, intentionally reaching into his clothing in a motion that anyone with defensive firearms training would consider an attempt to acquire a weapon.
Finicum turns broadside to the officer in the treeline his left hand pulling his jacket open wider as he reaches inside his coat with his right hand. The left-handed officer emerging from the treeline fires from a distance of five yards, strong-hand only.
Let me say this again. He fired from a broadside position, with a clear view of Finicum reaching into his coat. It isn’t clear whether the officer down at the snowbank fires. As the clearing and drawing motion would have been clear to him as well, we would be legally justified if he did. We’ll get an idea of whether he fired (effectively) in the autopsy. Shots from the officer emerging from the treeline will have hit Finicum in the left side. Shots that hit him in the back or right rear quarter will have come from the officer at the bottom of the screen.
If the autopsy shows that Finicum has no shots at all to the front, then the popular conspiracy theory that he was shot, causing hi mto stumble and lower his hands while facing the officers, will have been conclusively debunked.
Finicum immediately begins falling away from the officer emerging from the treeline and his left arm drops. He’s clearly taken an effective hit from the officer emerging from the treeline, and the way he drops, I suspect a central nervous system hit.
Finicum goes down hard and stays there. The officer emerging from the treeline and the officer from the snowbank lower their weapons to follow Finicum to the ground, then go to low ready within a second. It is very obvious from the position of the officer’s muzzles so quickly after Finicum went down that the claims of Victoria Sharp that he was shot multiple times while down are an abject lie. There are simply no guns pointed at him at this time.
The officer emerging from the treeline moves downward towards the bottom of the screen, suddenly apparently aware that there is a vehicle with people and guns that can still see him.
LaVoy Finicum raises his right arm one final time, and then it drops in the snow beside him. He moves no more.
Several seconds later, several flash-bang grenades are thrown, one detonating right beside the passenger side of the vehicle and potentially fracturing the glass on the passenger side. What appears to be 2 shots are fired through the passenger side window, which emerge from the windshield. Presumably, this is when Ryan Bundy was wounded.
The rest of the video from the circling aircraft is routine. There is no sign of any other gunfire at all, though red lasers from carbines occasionally illuminate Finicum’s unmoving body as officers move into a flanking position behind the truck in order to order the passengers out. One-by-one, a man and two women emerge from the truck and are taken into custody without incident. Two officers with heavy body armor (I’m presuming FBI agents) then move forward behind a shield and clear the vehicle.
Once the vehicle is clear, officers and agents then check on LaVoy Finicum’s condition, though he appears to have been deceased from just seconds after being shot. It is later said that a 9mm pistol was recovered from the inside left pocket of Finicum’s coat.
It’s frankly irrelevant whether a weapon was found or not. He made a motion consistent with drawing a weapon, and the officer was forced to respond.
Finicum fled a lawful traffic stop to avoid arrest. He wrecked his vehicle, and after lowering his hands for a third (actually, a fourth, as he never completely raised them beyond a ready position), he opened his jacket with his left hand and appeared to be reaching into it with his right as he turned towards the officer emerging from a treeline in a movement that any reasonable person would interpret as an attempt to draw a weapon.
For those of you who claim that he never carried a weapon on his left side, here’s a clip from a television interview he with Oregon Live on Monday, less than 24 hours before his suicide-by-cop, showing him carrying a weapon in a shoulder holster on his left side for a right-handed draw.
There is a second photo being shown on numerous sites of him showing the weapons he routinely carried other than his .45.
LaVoy Finicum was not ambushed.
LaVoy Finicum was not murdered.
LaVoy Finicum intentionally disobeyed lawful orders from uniformed law enforcement officers and reached for a weapon. This is commonly known as “suicide by cop.”
Mr. Finicum has long stated that he would not be taken alive. His decision to reach for a weapon on his person forced the Oregon State Police officer (or officers) to fire on Mr. Finicum to defend his own life. This was a textbook defensive gun use by the officer (or officers). His hand motions towards his weapon are very similar to the motions we saw in the enhanced security camera footage from the death of Tamir Rice. Both rice and Finicum made what is called a “furtive gesture,” or a movement that reasonable people in that circumstance would agree is what appears to be an attempt to grab a weapon.
Let’s be very clear on this next point, as well: neither law enforcement officers nor “average Joes” have to wait to see a weapon clearly and fully drawn before engaging someone in this circumstance. If you lawfully have reason to have some at gunpoint and they made a sudden movement like this, you would legally, morally, and ethically be able to justify shooting them.
It is also sadly clear from the video that Victoria Sharp, the young woman who claimed that Finicum was shot while his hands were up was lying. It is also clear that her claim that 100 rounds were fired at the truck is also a bald-faced lie. I strongly suspect that less than a dozen rounds were fired in total, and probably more like 5-6, which we’ll discover soon enough. Keep in mind that the officers covering Finicum’s truck are 5-7 yards away, broadside, in positions around the gray/silver SUV. If they fired 100 rounds at that range, there would be no survivors. It would be like the Timothy Russell/Malissa Williams case, where the car was nearly unrecognizable and each passenger was shot more than 20 times.
I personally feel that the Bundy protest at Malheur effectively shown a spotlight on a rogue federal government that sent good men to prison on a terrorism charge for five years over a minor grass fire, and which has been at war with the American people in the western states for a century.
Perhaps the public awareness raised by the standoff at Malheur will eventually force the federal government to begin to turn land the federal government should have no control over to the states.
It’s simply a shame that Robert “LaVoy” Finicum made the decision to commit suicide-by-cop instead of having his day in court.
Update: Various parts of the story were edited Sunday morning (1/31) for clarity, and the photo of LaVoy Finicum’s final interview, showing his shoulder holster on his left side for a right-handed draw, was added.