An FBI agent pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges that he lied about shooting at a key figure in last year’s armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge just before the man was killed by Oregon police.
W. Joseph Astarita was indicted on five felony charges after the inspector general of the U.S. Justice Department last year began investigating possible FBI misconduct and whether there was a cover-up.
He said nothing during a brief court hearing and was released on his own recognizance, declining to comment as he left.
Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, a spokesman for the group that took over the remote bird sanctuary to oppose federal control of land in the Western U.S., was fatally shot Jan. 26, 2016. Oregon State Police opened fire after he got out of a vehicle at a police roadblock and reached toward a handgun in an inner jacket pocket.
Investigators determined the troopers were justified in shooting Finicum but also found that members of an FBI hostage rescue team at the scene failed to disclose that they fired two rounds that missed the Arizona rancher.
“The actions of the FBI HRT team in this case damage the integrity of the entire law enforcement profession, which makes me both disappointed and angry,” said Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson, whose department investigated Finicum’s shooting.
Oregon U.S. Attorney Billy Williams would neither confirm nor deny that as many as four additional members of the FBI team are under investigation for making false statements.
Via the AP