In Oregon, FBI surrounds armed protesters, won’t discuss fatal shooting – Los Angeles Times
As law enforcement surrounded the remaining armed protesters at an Oregon wildlife refuge Wednesday, officials declined to release any details about how a spokesman for the protest group was killed during a confrontation with federal and state agencies a day earlier.
The surprise move to arrest ranking protest leaders on a rural stretch of highway Tuesday afternoon was “a very deliberate and measured response” to the armed occupation that had lasted since Jan. 2 with no end in sight, Gregory T. Bretzing, special agent in charge of Portland’s FBI division, said at a Wednesday morning news conference.
“We’ve worked diligently to bring the situation” at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., to “a peaceful end,” Bretzing said. He added that the FBI and Oregon State Police’s surprise arrests of protesters caught outside the refuge Tuesday was done “out of harm’s way” of county residents, “removing the threat of danger from anybody who might be present.”
But he said he could not release details about how protester spokesman and Arizona rancher Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was killed, citing an ongoing investigation.
Several members of the group — including one of its most prominent leaders, Ammon Bundy, 40 — were expected to make their initial appearance in federal court at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday to face charges of government intimidation.
Meanwhile, the standoff continues.
On Wednesday morning, law enforcement blocked the roads around the refuge, where armed protesters were still operating heavy machinery and refusing to leave, according to an activist’s livestream from the surrounded site.
The FBI and Oregon State Police’s “containment procedure” is likely aimed at preventing more armed activists from bolstering the holdouts at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, as well as keeping track of anyone who decides to leave.
“This has been tearing our community apart,” Harney County Sheriff David M. Ward said of the armed occupation at Wednesday’s news conference, where he urged “everybody in this illegal occupation to move on.”
“There doesn’t have to be bloodshed in our community,” Ward said. “We have issues with the way things are going in our government, we have a responsibility as citizens to act on those in an appropriate manner.
“We don’t arm up — we don’t arm up and rebel. We work through the appropriate channels. This can’t happen anymore. This can’t happen in America, and this can’t happen in Harney County.”
On Tuesday, law enforcement stopped a group of occupiers who had temporarily left the occupied refuge, apparently to attend a community meeting.
“Multiple agencies, law enforcement agencies, put a lot of work into doing the best tactical plan they could to take these guys down peacefully and find some resolution to these issues in our community,” Ward said. He added of what happened next: “It didn’t have to happen. We all make choices in life. Sometimes our choices go bad.”
Gunfire broke out when the FBI and the Oregon State Police intercepted Ammon Bundy and several of his supporters on a rural stretch of U.S. Highway 395.
The protesters had been en route to a meeting with hundreds of Oregon residents, many of them supporters of the occupation, about 100 miles north of the refuge in the town of John Day.
Details of what happened on the highway were scant. Officials would only say that shots were fired.
Ammon’s brother, Ryan Bundy, 43, of Bunkerville, Nev., was shot in the arm, and the 55-year-old Finicum was killed, according to Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore.
Finicum’s daughter, Arianna Finicum Brown, confirmed her father’s death to the Oregonian newspaper. “He would never, ever want to hurt somebody, but he does believe in defending freedom, and he knew the risks involved,” said Brown, one of 11 children.
Ammon Bundy, 40, who has acted as a leader of the occupation, told his wife in a phone call that the group had been cooperative when law enforcement agents confronted them, according to Fiore, a Bundy family supporter who spoke with Bundy’s wife on Tuesday.
“It’s very unfortunate. The only saving grace is there’s six witnesses to it,” Fiore said in an interview.
Ryan Bundy was treated and released into FBI custody.
The Bundy brothers are the sons of Cliven Bundy, a southern Nevada rancher who was at the center of a tense armed standoff of his own with federal Bureau of Land Management officials in 2014.
“Isn’t this a wonderful country we live in?” the elder Bundy said sarcastically Tuesday night when The Times informed him about the arrests and the death.
In addition to the Bundy brothers, those arrested on the highway included Brian Cavalier, 44, also of Bunkerville; Shawna Cox, 59, of Kanab, Utah; and Ryan Waylen Payne, 32, of Anaconda, Mont.
Police said they made a separate arrest of another man, Joseph O’Shaughnessy of Cottonwood, Ariz., who was taken into custody in the town of Burns, near the occupied wildlife refuge.
About two hours after the initial confrontation, authorities also arrested Internet radio host Pete Santilli, a supporter of the occupation who has documented the case on his program and via live stream since it began.
Another occupier, Jon Eric Ritzheimer, 32, an antigovernment activist who has organized armed anti-Muslim rallies in Phoenix, turned himself in to police in Peoria, Ariz., without incident, officials said.
In a video posted on Facebook before he surrendered, Ritzheimer said goodbye to his two daughters. “Daddy’s gotta go bye-bye,” said Ritzheimer, who said he had returned to Arizona from Oregon to visit his family. “I gotta go again okay?”
“The Feds know I am here and are asking me to turn myself in. I need an attorney so I can get back to my girls,” Ritzheimer wrote, asking for donations. “I just want the country to live by the Constitution and I just want the government to abide by it.”
Times staff writers Nigel Duara in Phoenix and William Yardley in Burns, Ore. contributed to this report.
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