Oregon legislators are rushing through a bill aimed at protecting the identity of the Oregon State Police officer who shot and killed Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation leader Robert LaVoy Finicum after hearing that the officer faces potential death threats.
House Bill 4087, which would allow the police to ask a judge to bar release of the shooter's name for 90 days at a time, is now headed to the House floor after State Police Superintendent Richard Evans Jr. described how police and other government officials in Burns faced a series of threats and intimidating behavior before and during the 41-day occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Evans said at a House Judiciary Committee meeting last week that law enforcement officials received a series of threats, including threats related to the death of Finicum. He was shot on Jan. 26 when the FBI and other law enforcement officers arrested several leaders of the occupation while they were traveling on a rural stretch of road between Burns and John Day.
"They are trying to figure out and ask who pulled the trigger," said Evans, who did not go into any detail about the threats. However, House Judiciary Chairman Jeff Barker, D-Aloha and a former Portland Police officer, said in an interview Sunday that he was told privately by Evans that "there was a real, credible threat and they needed something right away" to protect the name of the state police officer.
Barker worked with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon to craft a bill that would not draw the group's opposition over concerns that it could be used to prevent public scrutiny of police shootings.
Kimberly McCullough of the Oregon ACLU told the committee that it is "extremely important that we send a message to the public that police officers are not going to be shielded from public accountability in general."
McCullough said her group would remain neutral on the bill.
The measure allows the police to ask a judge to withhold the name of an officer for up to 90 days because of a "continuing credible threat of present danger" to an officer or his or her family. Under the bill, a judge could extend the protective order in 90-day increments.
Authorities have so far not released the name of the officer involved in Finicum's shooting while it is under investigation. The FBI said Finicum was shot after reaching for a gun in his pocket, but the agency's account of the incident has been challenged by some supporters of the occupiers.
Barker said he expected the officer's name to eventually become public, after "people have calmed down."
Evans, the OSP superintendent, said Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward was shadowed while Christmas shopping with his family by men openly carrying guns and that his wife had her car tires slashed. Evans said a state police officer involved in a drunk driving arrest — of a man who reportedly was going to be a bodyguard for occupation leader Ammon Bundy — had his house spray painted.
Law enforcement and other government officials have been "in fear of retaliation or kidnapping or other things," Evans said.
The bill passed the committee on a 9-0 vote and Barker said he expected the measure to soon be on the House floor