The FBI disciplined 12 agents Friday for their handling of the 1992 Randy Weaver standoff, yet the sharpshooter who killed Weaver’s unarmed wife wasn’t reprimanded.
Director Louis Freeh doled out punishments ranging from reprimands to 15-day suspensions - mainly to supervisors like Larry Potts, who will still be promoted to deputy director.
Weaver’s Wyoming lawyer, Gerry Spence, called Freeh’s actions “a handslapping.”
“Had government agents slapped the hand of Vicki Weaver rather than shooting her in the head with a high-powered rifle while she stood in the doorway holding her baby, and had the agents merely slapped the 14-year-old child on the hand rather than shooting him in the back with a machine gun as he ran for home, this little family would still be together and their rights as American citizens would have been preserved,” Spence said.
Freeh said he found “no crimes or intentional misconduct.” No FBI agents were fired.
Lon Horiuchi, the sniper who shot Vicki Weaver while she stood on the porch of her North Idaho cabin, acted “in defense of other law enforcement officers,” Freeh said.
“Once in place, an FBI sniper observed an armed suspect brandish his shoulder weapon at a helicopter carrying other FBI agents and fired … to protect the lives of those agents,” Freeh said.
During Weaver’s trial, however, agents testified that no helicopter was in the air. And the judge, citing a lack of evidence, tossed out criminal charges that Weaver and Harris threatened a helicopter.
In Des Moines, Iowa, Vicki Weaver’s family was angry that Horiuchi wasn’t disciplined.
Her brother, Lanny Jordison, called Freeh’s actions “an insult, not only to the intelligence of Vicki’s family, but to the public as well by expecting us to believe a highly trained sharpshooter could ever shoot anyone accidentally in the head.”
In a Friday morning news conference in Washington, D.C., Freeh criticized the revised rules of engagement in the case, in which FBI supervisors stated that agents could shoot “any armed adult.”
He said the rules “were poorly drafted, confusing, and can be read to direct agents to act contrary to law and FBI policy.”
Freeh insisted Horiuchi wasn’t following those rules when he shot Vicki Weaver.
Instead, Freeh blamed FBI mistakes on top agents’ “inadequate performance, improper judgement, neglect of duty, and failure to exert proper managerial oversight.”
He punished the two FBI agents in charge of the operation at Ruby Ridge, Gene Glenn and Richard Rogers, and their supervisors in Washington, D.C., Potts and Danny Coulson.
Other FBI employees were disciplined for careless and superficial reports on the case and for not cooperating with the U.S. Attorney during the trial, contributing “to an appearance of governmental ineptitude.”
Among those disciplined:
Glenn, who was special agent-in-charge of the FBI’s Salt Lake City field office. He received the most severe punishment for approving the rules of engagement.
Freeh removed Glenn from his post, suspended him for 15 days and placed a letter of censure in his file for approving the shoot-to-kill orders that led to Vicki Weaver’s death.
Rogers, the former commander of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team. He drafted the revised rules of engagement while flying to North Idaho. He was suspended for 10 days and censured.
Potts, who was then the assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division and had overall responsibility for the standoff.
Freeh said Potts failed to provide “proper oversight with regard to the rules of engagement.” He received a letter of censure, but Freeh said Friday he still strongly endorses making him his second in command of the bureau.
Danny Coulson, now in charge of the FBI’s Dallas office. During the standoff, he was Potts’ deputy. He also received a letter of censure.
E. Michael Kahoe, the agent in charge of the shooting-incident review was also censured and suspended for 15 days for not recognizing the rules of engagement were faulty.
Another agent involved in that review was suspended for five days. Three agents were censured and three reprimanded for poor investigative or research work on the case. None of them was named in Freeh’s report.
In addition, Freeh found that two other FBI employees performed poorly, but they weren’t disciplined because they have since retired.
Freeh was chosen to head the FBI after the Weaver siege and the deaths of more than 90 people during a standoff with the Branch Davidian cult near Waco, Texas.
While he strongly criticized agents’ conduct, Freeh said the siege was “one of the most dangerous and potentially violent situations to which FBI agents have ever been assigned.”
The Justice Department decided last year not to bring criminal charges in the case, even though an internal report recommended Horiuchi and Rogers be charged.
Weaver, who is living with his daughters in Grand Junction, Iowa, said Friday his attorneys have advised him not to comment.
His family and Harris have filed almost $300 million in claims and suits against the government.
“I’ve always felt that the real punishment will come at the hands of 12 Idaho jurors in the civil case,” said Weaver’s Boise attorney, Chuck Peterson.
Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, who has dogged the Justice Department over the Weaver case, said he isn’t satisfied with Freeh’s actions.
“(But) I do believe the director has made a major step in the right direction,” Craig said.
The case began in 1989, when Weaver sold two sawedoff shotguns to a federal informer investigating white separatists. A federal jury said Weaver was entrapped.
When Weaver failed to show for his initial trial in 1991, U.S. Marshals began surveillance on the remote cabin.
On Aug. 21, 1992, a gunfight broke out between marshals and Kevin Harris and Weaver’s 14-year-old son, Sam. The teenager and a deputy marshal were killed.
Weaver, his wife, Harris and Weaver’s three daughters holed up in the cabin and the FBI hostage rescue team was called to Ruby Ridge.
The next day, Horiuchi shot and wounded Weaver. Then as Weaver and Harris ran back into the cabin, the sniper fired again, wounding Harris and killing Vicki Weaver, who was standing in the doorway.
Freeh said Horiuchi fired the second shot to keep Weaver and Harris “from gaining the tactical advantage of the cover of the fortified cabin…”
The plywood cabin wasn’t insulated, let alone fortified, said David Nevin, Harris’ attorney.
“Give me a break,” he said. “No one who’s been up there believes that was a fortified position. They hadn’t even said, ‘We’re out here. Surrender.”’
Weaver and Harris were acquitted on murder and conspiracy charges and Weaver served an 18-month sentence for failing to appear in court.