FBI 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.
Astarita "falsely stated he had not fired his weapon during the attempted arrest of Robert La Voy Finicum, when he knew then and there that he had fired his weapon," according to the indictment.
Further, "by failing to disclose that he had fired two rounds during the attempted arrest of Robert LaVoy Finicum…[Astarita] acted with the intent to hinder, delay and prevent the communication of information from the Oregon State Police to the Federal Bureau of Investigation relating to the possible commission of a federal offense."
The legal system long ago decided that the actual killing of Finicum was justified. An objective outside observer of the video evidence might think differently, given that agents started shooting at him as soon as he exited his truck, before Finicum made motions interpreted as "reaching for a gun" that, in the minds of many, justified the shooting.
Those who insist Finicum's driving represented a mortal danger to the officers should note that he was no longer operating a motor vehicle at the time of the killshots.
Astarita, one of the first shooters but whose shots did not actually hit Finicum, might justifiably be held to account not only for lying about his actions, but also very likely unjustified attempted murder. Alas, the legal system disagrees on the second point.
A Los Angeles Times account from the federal courtroom in Portland, Oregon, where Astarita faced a judge this week and pleaded not guilty, reports he was "stone-faced" and notes that Astarita's troubles began when:
Investigators were concerned that they could not account for the shots apparently fired by an FBI agent that left the bullet hole in the roof of Finicum's truck.
None of the FBI agents took responsibility for taking the shots. Suspicions were further aroused when investigators later reportedly couldn't find two shell casings that had initially been spotted at the scene.
Astarita will remain free pending his eventual trial.
While Finicum essentially faced a death sentence for his role in the Malheur occupation, seven other occupiers who actually went to trial for their crimes were acquitted last October. The result was likely because of prosecutorial overreach, trying them on charges more serious and harder to prove than the trespassing they actually committed, but which would have resulted in more jail time had they been convicted.