When Oregon State Police officers shot and killed LaVoy Finicum, the defacto spokesman for the 40-day armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge, a group of elite FBI agents who were also at the scene claimed they never fired their own guns.
Newly surfaced evidence, however, indicates the FBI not only opened fire, but that agents may have removed evidence from the scene as well, raising questions the officers were involved in a cover-up.
Finicum was among the group of ranchers and militia members who took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January. He was killed by Oregon State Police officers on Jan. 26 after he crashed a truck carrying four people into a snowbank at a police roadblock. Footage shot by passenger Shawna Cox showed the windshield shattering after the vehicle plowed into the snow, where Finicum later got out of the vehicle and was shot by officers.
In addition to state police, FBI agents from the agency's elite Hostage Rescue Team fired two gunshots at the scene, authorities revealed earlier this month, but the agents never told investigators anything about those shots. Their failure to mention the gunfire led the Department of Justice to open an investigation.
Two big pieces of evidence have since come to light, raising serious questions about the FBI's role in the shooting and why it wasn't immediately known that the agents opened fire.
The first is a pair of "copper-colored" rifle casings that one state police officer recalled seeing at the scene. The officer mentioned the casings during an interview with investigators, but they were never recovered and documented as evidence.
According to The Oregonian, state police only use silver-colored casings — meaning the copper casings likely came from another source. And according to The Washington Post, the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team has used copper-colored casings in the past.
An even-bigger question is what exactly happened to those casings.
The Oregonian and The Washington Post reported that unreleased FBI surveillence footage shows an agent bending over twice to pick up objects in the area where the the shell casings were reportedly seen. Multiple law enforcement agencies did not return BuzzFeed News' request for comment Thursday,
Officials previously released a segment of video showing the shooting, but it cut off shortly afterward. The extended footage that reportedly shows the FBI agent picking something up has not been released publicly.
Investigators have reviewed the footage and afterward, according to The Oregonian, went looking for the copper casings. They were never found.
Police documents also reveal that during interviews, the investigators repeatedly asked state police officers to confirm that they had used standard issue ammunition — questions that indicate officers were trying to figure out where the casings came from.
The FBI's Hostage Rescue Team is a counterterrorism force that was formed in 1983. The team has been deployed to hundreds of crisis situations over the years, many which were resolved successfully.
In other instances, though, the team has been involved in disastrous operations. In 1992, for example, the team was deployed to an ultimately controversial standoff in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, that left three people dead. The team was also on scene for the 1993 Waco standoff in Texas that ended with deaths among both the Branch Davidians religious sect and law enforcement.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News Thursday, Finicum's widow Jeanette Finicum accused both the FBI and the Oregon State Police of participating in "a massive cover up."
"Clearly there is misconduct on the part of both agencies and their contractors," Jeanette Finicum said in the statement. "That is why, from the very beginning, we have called for a private, independent investigation of all government and contracted agencies involved. These agencies can't be trusted to investigate each other."
Authorities who investigated the case announced earlier this month that the state police officers' shots were justified.
Ultimately, what exactly happened to the casings is unclear. However the sighting, along with the reported video footage, paint an increasingly murky picture of what actually happened at the scene and raise questions about whether the FBI's shots were intentionally concealed for some reason.
Jim Dalrymple is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Jim Dalrymple II at email@example.com.
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