The First Tragedy of Malheur


LaVoy Finicum and Ammon Bundy-photo from

This morning the Nugget News published a column I wrote regarding the tactical approach to resolving the Malheur Refuge takeover.  The timing was mere accident.  You can see it here.  In the article I was deliberately not discussing the political considerations driving the decision-making process, merely the modern tactical approach to resolving an armed resistance with as little violence as possible.

Most anyone with any law enforcement experience could see the necessity, and the opportunity, to conduct a “road-kill” operation, which is a police euphemism for taking a subject away from a place where they have control over the outcome, conducting a traffic stop, and taking them into custody.  In the event, this is precisely what happened.

I deliberately did not use the term road-kill in my article, and for all of the obvious reasons.  And I am grateful for that, because a man is now dead, which is the worst possible outcome.

We are going to hear a lot now from dubious, or worse–completely unreliable–sources that LaVoy Finicum was in the act of surrendering when he was killed.  This kind of claim is now the go-to strategy for those seeking to bolster their claims of victimhood at the hands of law enforcement.

Having conducted any number of felony traffic stops, I find it very hard to believe that Finicum was killed with his hands in the air while peacefully surrendering.  That is taken straight from the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” fiction propagated post-Ferguson.  It defies logic in this case, particularly in the face of Finicum’s own statements to the media, where he pronounced a willingness to die rather than face incarceration.

There is something very Tom Hornish, in Finicum’s statements, where he almost wistfully announces that he won’t trade his bedroll and his horse for a prison cell.

But it also telegraphs a big punch, and cops are trained to listen very carefully to anyone who says, “I won’t go to jail,” or “I won’t go back to jail.”  It is an immediate indicator of a subject’s capacity and/or intention for violent resistance, and it informs everything that happens afterward.

I think it is more likely that Finicum presented a weapon, and was killed because of it.  And it simply reeks of suicide by cop, because he must have known what was going to happen the second the overhead lights came on behind them, and that his chances of survival were virtually zero.

I have never met a cop who went to work wanting to kill someone.  I suppose they exist.  And I know that there are “bad” shootings–many times less than hyperbolic reports in the media would have us believe–but they do happen.  They are also an inescapable outcome of enforcing laws in a nation of 350 million people, a great number of whom find it appropriate to resist arrest.

I sincerely doubt this was one of those events.

I have no love affair for the abuse of power.  I have written at length in these pages about my feelings toward those whose badges weigh too much, and that nasty and arrogant cavalcade of “police executives” (a sexy new term they are using, by the way, replacing their former love affair with “police managers”) who couldn’t lead a sow to wallow.  Elsewhere, I have made a mission to help highlight and change the egregious leadership failures inside my former department.  Where they are wrong, I will hammer law enforcement relentlessly.

This isn’t over, and I sincerely hope that those who remain inside the Malheur Refuge don’t choose the Masada route, but rather surrender with dignity and without further bloodshed.  They should come out and fight their cause in the media, and in the courts.  They can’t win their current strategy, not by a long shot, and no one else needs to die.


  1. Outstanding assessment and articles here and in The Nugget. Having spent a lot of time in Harney County, Malheur, Steens Mountains and Burns, it is a wonderful place and I hate to see blood shed there. Peter French’s blood was shed there 100 or so years ago and his killer found not guilty. The folks in Harney County are hard working and trying to maintain a way of life which results in butting heads with BLM and USFWS. I may have mentioned this before but the last time we were in Burns, we saw two obituaries with Claude Dallas as an honorary pallbearer. We see it here in Alaska the same. I worked for FWS on refuges and in the Regional Office, and I have seen some abuse of power that I was not pleased with. When someone in the agency did something wrong, it was swept under the rug, while a civilian doing the same thing was prosecuted. Having carried gold for a number of years, I’ve seen the good, bad and the ugly. Some folks you didn’t want to work with as you knew that if you responded to something some shit was going down that didn’t need to. Anyway, I’m rambling but your articles are great. Hopefully, no further blood will be shed and trials will be fair and understanding–that justice and not revenge is served.



    1. Thanks Thom, and you are spot on…let’s hope in the end it is justice, and not revenge. This thing isn’t over, and I’m hopeful the tension can be ratcheted down a few notches–I don’t trust the mindsets at work inside the refuge, regardless of how I may feel about their underlying grievances.



  2. It’s very sad , not sure where I stand but I do know that if they murdered him as the other man said him they would not have left a witness so it leave me scratching my head and saying how sad!



  3. This went according to the playbook you lined out. Seems like a job well done — and LaVoy has no one to blame but himself for the outcome if my understanding of how it went down is correct. Hadn’t thought about his prior statements creating a heightened alert to his actions, but that sure makes sense. If you’re going to lay down the “they’ll never take me alive” riff, I guess you shouldn’t be surprised when that’s the tune that gets called.

    Already hearing the “shot with his hands up” story. From people who should know better. So it goes.



    1. It really appears that the law enforcement guys have put their better foot forward, and the anaconda is now coiling around the refuge itself. From the unsealed affidavit we gather an interesting view into some of these folks they now have in custody–I’m not seeing a lot of reasonable or rational minds at work in the occupation leadership cadre. Some of the latest statements coming out of the refuge are beginning to sound apocalyptic too, so this could still end up badly. I hope not.



  4. Craig, in a calm and experienced voice you were able to put the inexperienced right in the mindset of how we have evolved in Law Enforcement.Your astute mind and experience as one of the best to ever wear the badge put you there in the planning and management of a truly unfortunate situation.



    1. John D! That’s high praise, coming from a legend and Al Stewart nominee. I see this morning that some of the remainders at the refuge are coming out. Smart move, and Ammon Bundy, speaking through his attorney, encouraged them to leave–get up here for a visit…The Dutcher Suite at the Figure 8 awaits.



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