Police say the shootout that killed Oregon militia spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum began when he crashed into a roadblock and ended when he reached for his waistband.
Finicum, a 54-year-old Arizona rancher who told reporters from the beginning of the standoff that he would rather die than lose his freedom, was killed in a shootout with an Oregon state police SWAT team late Tuesday night.
According to CNN, which cites an unnamed law enforcement officer, Finicum was on a “desolate stretch of U.S. 395" headed to a nearby town hall meeting with six other militia leaders when the shootout began. Via CNN:
Tuesday was the first time that the combination of top leaders was all together traveling away from their base at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the official said.
The FBI and state police teams knew the route they were going to take. They picked a spot away from populated areas to attempt a traffic stop. One vehicle stopped on command from authorities. The second, allegedly driven by LaVoy Finicum, took off at high speed, attempting to get away.
About a mile away, out of sight, the FBI and state police had set up a roadblock.
But Finicum, with police in hot pursuit, attempted to leave the main road and drove into a snow bank. When he emerged from the vehicle, FBI and state police ordered him to surrender. That’s when, authorities say, Finicum reached down toward his waistband where he had a gun.
One of the occupants of Finicum’s car—an 18-year-old who says her name is Victoria Sharp—said Wednesday that the cops started shooting at the vehicle, prompting Finicum to flee the traffic stop. She says he had his hands up when he died.
“He got out of the car and he had his hands in the air and he was like, ‘Just shoot me then. Is this what you want? Just shoot me.’ And they did,” she said in an audio clip uploaded to YouTube. “They shot him dead.”
Still, at least one militia member supports the official account—Mark McConnell, who uploaded a Facebook video Wednesday saying he witnessed the shooting from the first car.
While the officers were busy securing his vehicle, McConnell says, Finicum took off.
“Next thing we know, LaVoy takes off with his pickup and the other occupants,” McConnell said, describing it as “an act of aggression, and foolish.”
The shootout was reportedly caught on video and CNN reports authorities are debating releasing the footage to counter claims that Finicum was trying to surrender when he was shot.