October 14, 1995 in Nation/World

Weaver Panel To Recall Potts Fbi Swat Team Members Say They Were Surprised By Shoot-On-Sight Orders

David A. Lieb The Associated Press Contributed To Staff writer
 

Larry Potts, former deputy FBI director, will be called back before a Senate panel next week to answer more questions about whether he ordered the shooton-sight rules at Ruby Ridge.

As the Senate Judiciary subcommittee resumed hearings Friday on the Randy Weaver standoff, committee chairmen Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he plans to recall Potts to the witness stand on Wednesday.

During the course of the monthlong hearings, committee members frequently have vented frustrations about conflicting FBI stories and the reluctance of anyone to take blame for the deadly standoff on Ruby Ridge.

“There is a real dodge game going on right now with the FBI,” Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said after Friday’s hearing. “There are some people here who are not telling the truth.”

Potts, who was censured and demoted, is among five top FBI officials now suspended amid a federal criminal investigation of the destruction of some Ruby Ridge documents at FBI headquarters.

During subcommittee hearings last months, Potts testified he never approved the shoot-on-sight orders.

Since then, the Justice Department has turned over Potts’ handwritten notes to the terrorism subcommittee.

In addition to recalling Potts, the subcommittee also intends to hear testimony from FBI Director Louis Freeh and hopes to call U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to testify before concluding their hearings next week. Reno said Thursday she had no plans to appear before the subcommittee.

Although not in office during the standoff, Reno later approved Potts’ promotion as deputy FBI director.

“One of the biggest questions in this entire matter was why was Larry Potts promoted with all the overhang?” Specter, a presidential hopeful, said during a break in the hearing.

During Friday’s hearing, members of a backup FBI SWAT team at Ruby Ridge said they were given an unprecedented “green light” to shoot any armed male, but rejected the rules as “ridiculous.”

Four FBI agents testified they were surprised when they were told about the shoot-on-sight orders.

“The rules of engagement, to the best of my recollection, were if you see an adult armed male up there on Ruby Ridge, you had the green light,” said SWAT team leader Gregory Sexton, who was briefed by other FBI officials and passed the orders along to his team. “This did not sound right.”

Other SWAT team members recalled thinking: “That’s crazy. That’s ridiculous,” said FBI agent Peter King. “We all felt that it was inappropriate and were not going to follow them.”

The Denver SWAT team served as backup to the FBI’s hostage rescue team during the 11-day siege in North Idaho. No Denver agent fired a shot.

But FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi, following the freely construed rules, shot and killed Weaver’s wife, Vicki, and wounded his friend Kevin Harris as he ran through the door of Weaver’s cabin.

A day earlier, Weaver’s 14-year-old son Samuel and Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan died during a shootout at a wooded crossroads near Weaver’s cabin.

FBI officials testified earlier in the hearings that the extreme danger of the standoff forced them to disregard their normal rules allowing deadly force only when an agent or someone else is in immediate harm.

SWAT team members said the orders they “could and should” shoot at any armed male were unprecedented.

Asked about his reaction to the rules, agent Donald Kusulas said: “You’ve got to be kidding. If I wasn’t in danger, I couldn’t image myself shooting.”

Sexton, the team leader, said he couldn’t recall who initially informed him of the broad rules, and none of the SWAT team members said they knew whether the rules were approved by FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Other FBI field agents have testified they received clearance for the shoot-on-sight rules from Potts, then assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigation division.

Also Friday, committee members grilled FBI laboratory supervisor James J. Cadigan for his slow-moving and less-than-thorough job of examining crime scene evidence for the 1993 trial in which Weaver and Harris were acquitted of murder.

Senators criticized Cadigan for initially refusing to run lab tests on a bullet hole in Samuel Weaver’s jacket, insisting it was not possible to conclude from the residue who fired the deadly shot.

U.S. attorneys later hired a private lab technician who determined the bullet came from Deputy U.S. Marshall Larry Cooper’s gun.

Cadigan repeatedly sidestepped questions from senators about his competence, saying the FBI laboratory “did everything in its power” to conduct tests in a “professional manner.”

But senators were not satisfied.

“It’s testimony like this that causes juries to acquit,” Craig said, referring to the Boise trial. He noted, however, that Cadigan did not testify at the trial.

The Senate panel also quizzed two other FBI crime scene investigators, the FBI’s Idaho supervisor, a former FBI headquarters attorney and the Justice Department’s chief of terrorism and violent crime.

Committee members questioned the witnesses about sharp conflicts between the FBI and U.S. attorneys during the 1993 trial.

A U.S. district court judge fined the government $1,920 during the proceedings for failing to disclose evidence to defense attorneys.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = David A. Lieb Staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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