Astarita faces federal charges of making false statements and obstruction of justice. The government alleges Astarita lied about firing at Finicum moments before state police shot him dead on Jan. 26, 2016, when he bolted from a pickup at a roadblock on Highway 395 in Harney County.
The trial might not be such a boon to the Finicum side. James Smith, with the Oregon Department of Justice, represents the state and its interests. He said law enforcement officials testifying during the trial will use pseudonyms out of concern for their safety. That will make them difficult to serve notice to at the trial, he said.
Astarita, who pleaded not guilty in federal court in Portland, was assigned to arrest the leaders of the standoff on 26 January 2016 when Finicum drove off the road and into a snowbank, before attempting to flee on foot. During the ensuing confrontation, some of which was captured on film, Oregon state police officers shot and killed Finicum, an Arizona rancher, who police say was reaching for his gun. Police later said the shooting was “justified”.
Soon after the incident, however, Astarita “knowingly and willfully made a false statement” to a supervisory special agent when he said he did not fire his weapon according to the grand jury charges. The “misleading conduct” and failure to disclose the fact that he had fired two rounds played a role in the FBI’s decision not to call a shooting incident response team to investigate, according to federal officials.