Oregon Gov. Kate Brown very likely set in motion the FBI’s crackdown on armed protesters who have been holed up at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. She expressed her frustration on Wednesday (Jan. 20) over federal inaction and call for the law to be enforced.
“The residents of Harney County have been overlooked and underserved by federal officials’ response thus far,” Brown said during a news conference.
“This spectacle of lawlessness must end. And until Harney County is free of it, I will not stop insisting that federal officials enforce the law.”
Federal authorities swung into action Tuesday (Jan. 26) when protest leader Ammon Bundy, brother Ryan Bundy and several supporters were arrested at a traffic stop.
LaVoy Finicum, the group’s high-profile spokesman, was shot and killed during the confrontation. But accounts vary surrounding the circumstances of his death.
“Patriot” supporters claim Finicum had his hands up and had placed them behind his head before he was gunned down.
They’re relying largely on the testimony of a 18-year-old Victoria Sharp who was in the pickup truck with Finicum, Ryan Payne, Ryan Bundy and Shawna Cox, according to Sharp, whose account was posted on YouTube.
She said FBI agents sprayed the truck with bullets, firing as many as 100 rounds, although she was not hurt.
She said Finicum was gunned down after he got out of the truck with his hands up.
“He’s like, just shoot me then, just shoot me — and they did, they shot him dead, They shot him right there, he was just walking — I saw it. I swear to God, he was just walking with his hands in the air.”
But Sharp also said she was lying on the truck cab floor when the shooting occurred, raising questions about what she could actually see.
She also said the shooting went on for five minutes, which is inconceivable. Only one other person, Ryan Payne was slightly injured.
Her account was countered by Melvin Lee another protester, who said he spoke directly with Mark McConnell, one of Ammon Bundy’s bodyguards. McConnell and Bundy were in a separate vehicle ahead of Finicum’s.
In a video, he said the group was stopped by law enforcement officers and served arrest warrants. But Finicum sped off in his truck until he encountered a second roadblock about a mile down the road.
Finicum refused to stop and reportedly tried to drive around the roadblock. But his truck got stuck in a snow bank. At that point, he jumped out of the truck and “charged” at police, yelling “Shoot me, shoot me,” Lee said.
At that point, authorities opened fire, they added. Finicum was carrying a pistol.
McConnell, who was taken into custody and later released, posted his own video. He said Ryan Payne told him he got into a heated argument with Finicum after Finicum fled the scene of the first stop.
He said Shawna Cox told him that Finicum jumped out of the pickup and “charged” toward law enforcement officers.
“He was not on his knees, none of that,” McConnell said. “He was none of that nonsense. You know, that was a miscommunication on somebody else’s part.
“But he went after them. He charged them. You know, LaVoy was very passionate about what he was doing up here,” McConnell said.
McConnell said the area was flooded with law enforcement and all roads were blocked. About 10 people were still holed up at the refuge, although most of the women and children had left the compound during the night.
Brown spokeswoman Kristen Grainger said multiple local law enforcement entities from around the state, as well as Oregon State Police, are coordinating with the Harney County sheriff to provide the additional officers.
Ammon Bundy and a group of armed militants occupied the refuge center on Jan 2 to protest federal land policies. Authorities maintained a hands-off policy for nearly a month, allowing the protesters free rein of the county.
But the takeover did not sit well with local residents, who said the militants were all from out-of-state and creating fear in the community. Civic groups urged them to go home along with the local sheriff, but protesters refused to leave.
The group’s current leader, identified as Blaine Cooper, said the remaining 10 or so protesters are determined to fight and die there, if authorities attempt to remove them.
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