Mohave County honors slain militia member from Oregon standoff

LaVoy Finicum, a rancher from Mohave County, speaks to the media after members of an armed group along with several other organizations arrive at the at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. Finicum was shot to death during a traffic stop in January 2016, and now the Mohave County Supervisors are naming a road in the rancher’s honor.

Photo by Associated Press.

LaVoy Finicum, a rancher from Mohave County, speaks to the media after members of an armed group along with several other organizations arrive at the at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. Finicum was shot to death during a traffic stop in January 2016, and now the Mohave County Supervisors are naming a road in the rancher’s honor.

A two-mile section of road in northern Mohave County will be renamed in honor of a controversial opponent of government overreach and federal grazing rights.

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors gave the green light Monday to rename a section of Yellowstone Road to LaVoy Finicum Road, after the slain member of Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, a militia that seized and occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in early 2016.

The month-long occupation triggered a standoff between state troopers joined and the FBI. Finicum was shot and killed by law enforcement officers on Jan. 26, 2016. Eight members of Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, including its leader Ammon Bundy, were arrested the same day.

Mohave County supervisors voted 3-2, with supervisors Buster Johnson and Jean Bishop dissenting, to approve the name change.

“I believe LaVoy Finicum died defending the Constitution in a manner of his own choosing,” said Supervisor Hildy Angius, who introduced the proposal. “That is why I told his father, who stood in front of me with tears in his eyes, that I was proud to make the motion.”

Supervisor Lois Wakimoto also supported the change.

“These things happened,” Wakimoto said about the occupation. “We can’t take them away. It wasn’t necessarily the right thing to do, but you can’t change what happen. Hopefully children learn from the fact that we don’t always do right, we don’t always do wrong, but we can’t change the fact that history is what it is.”

The organizers of the occupation were seeking an opportunity to advance their view that the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies were constitutionally required to turn over most of the public lands they manage to the individual states.

Angius said the request to rename the road came from an area resident who paid a fee and notified property owners In Cane Beds, a community in the northern stretches of Mohave County. Nearly 90 percent of the landowners approved of the name change, she said.

Several people spoke up at Monday’s meeting in favor of the name change. Kingman resident Jennifer Jones-Esposito called Finicum an “American patriot” who was “murdered in cold blood” at the hands of authorities.

“He was willing to take a stand for things that most people will never have the courage to do,” she said. “We should never forget what happened to LaVoy. What happened to him should never, ever happen to an American, to an Arizonian, to a Mohave County resident … victory over oppression.”

The state troopers who shot and killed Finicum were later cleared of wrongdoing, but whether the shooting was justified is still a matter of debate.

As a former law enforcement officer, Supervisor Bishop didn’t think the name change is appropriate because it makes Finicum’s actions seem heroic.

“He kind of threw our laws back in our face,” Bishop said. “The proper venue for this was in the court of law. I don’t think what he did was the right way of handling things. I don’t recognize him as a hero, but I do recognize him for being a well-respected member of his community.”

Buster Johnson took issue with the board’s decision. “I believe this person brought the actions upon himself,” Johnson said. “There is a peaceful way to get your point across and this is a person who put a lot of people in danger.”

Johnson said the board’s action could have unintended consequences.

“You also have to look at the long-term effect of the image Mohave County wants to project,” he added. “I think this is a black eye on Mohave County and sets a tone when we are trying to stimulate economic development. This could really hurt that goal.”