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Federal Bureau of Investigation agent pleads not guilty to lying in Finicum shooting

Federal Bureau of Investigation agent pleads not guilty to lying in Finicum shooting

FBI Special Agent W. Joseph Astarita, who was a member of the agency's hostage rescue team, pleaded not guilty in a Portland federal court to two counts of obstruction of justice and three counts of making false statements to investigators, the indictment unsealed Wednesday shows.

Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent W. Joseph Astarita has been indicted for possible misconduct involving last January's law enforcement murder of Robert LaVoy Finicum, one of the occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The indictment stems from a U.S. Justice Department investigation.

The agent's shots did not hit Robert "LaVoy" Finicum during a 2016 traffic stop, but soon afterward, Oregon State Police fatally shot the Arizona rancher after he reached toward a handgun in an inner pocket.

During a later probe, the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office determined one agent fired two shots at Finicum's pickup truck after it crashed into a snowbank.

On Jan. 26, 2016, Finicum, a spokesman for the group who took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, swerved his truck into a snowbank - almost hitting an FBI Hostage Rescue Team member - to avoid a roadblock on US 395 in Oregon.

The charging document also states that Astarita knew his false statements could influence the "FBI's decision not to call the Shooting Incident Response Team to investigate the propriety of an agent-involved shooting".

Astarita is scheduled to have a jury trial on August 29. He entered pleas of not guilty to each county and was released pending future appearances. Finicum was an outspoken protester and a father of 11. US authorities concluded that agents were justified in firing at Finicum.

FBI agent indicted on charges of lying about shooting at rancher in Oregon standoff

The indictment of the agent, Joseph Astarita, 40, is a blow to the reputation of the hostage team, which carries out the bureau's riskiest missions in the United States and overseas.

Occupation leaders Ammon and brother Ryan Bundy, along with five others -- Shawna Cox, Kenneth Medenbach, Jeff Banta, David Fry and Neil Wampler -- were acquitted by a jury in OR of conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs after taking over the refuge buildings. State police fired the shots that killed Finicum.

On Wednesday, a federal indictment against FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita was unsealed, in which he is accused of lying about firing his gun twice during the OR operation.

Finicum traveled to Oregon with the Bundy family in January 2016, and was one of the leaders of the group that took over the wildlife refuge near Burns, Oregon, to protest federal control of public lands.

Finicum was stopped by a roadblock, where he allegedly challenged officers to shoot him.

"The actions of the FBI HRT in this case damaged the integrity of the entire law enforcement profession, which makes me both disappointed and angry", he said.

Nelson said again Thursday that his office is continuing its investigation into the actions of the FBI agents present during the arrest attempt.

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