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FBI Officials Attack Ruby Ridge Rules : Probe: SWAT team members tell Senate panel they thought special shoot-on-sight orders were 'crazy.' Subcommittee intends to call Reno.

October 14, 1995|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A member of an FBI SWAT team at Ruby Ridge, Ida., during the deadly standoff with white separatist Randy Weaver told senators Friday that his colleagues found the bureau's special shoot-on-sight rules to be "crazy."

After SWAT team members were briefed on the unique order that snipers "could and should" fire at any armed adult male spotted outside the Weavers' mountainside cabin, several of them said: "That's crazy; that's ridiculous," team member Peter King testified.

"We all felt that it was inappropriate and we weren't going to abide by" the shoot-on-sight rules, King said.

Another team member, Donald Kusulas, said his reaction to the rules was: "You've got to be kidding. If I wasn't in danger, I couldn't imagine myself shooting."

The customary FBI shooting rule, by contrast, restricts the use of lethal force to protecting oneself or others from imminent harm.

As the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on terrorism resumed hearings on the 1992 incident, Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said the panel intended to call Atty. Gen. Janet Reno to testify. Reno indicated to reporters Thursday that she did not plan to appear.

The SWAT team, based in Denver, was at Ruby Ridge to back up members of the FBI's hostage rescue team and to help secure the perimeter in the remote, heavily wooded area.

During the 11-day siege, an FBI sniper shot Weaver's wife, Vicki, as she stood behind the cabin door, holding her infant daughter, on Aug. 22, 1992. A day earlier, the Weavers' 14-year-old son, Sam, and Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan died in a gunfight that occurred as federal agents scouted Weaver's property in anticipation of arresting him on a weapons charge. Weaver and family friend Kevin Harris were acquitted of Degan's murder.

Specter, who is running for President, acknowledged that Cabinet secretaries normally testify only before full congressional committees, not subcommittees. But he said Reno should testify because she approved the promotion of Larry Potts as deputy FBI director earlier this year.

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.

Eugene Glenn, the FBI field commander at the scene, testified last month that Potts approved the improper order that snipers "could and should" fire at any armed adult male at Ruby Ridge.

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Potts disputed that in subsequent testimony, saying the change in the normal shooting rules was made by lower-level FBI officials at Ruby Ridge, not at Washington headquarters, after he had approved an earlier version that said "can" but not "should."

The Justice Department recently gave the subcommittee handwritten notes that Potts has said would exonerate him.

But Specter said the notes are open to interpretation.

Gregory Sexton, a SWAT team leader who briefed team members on the shooting orders, told the senators he believed that the rules were "out of line." Asked whether he challenged them to his bosses, Sexton replied: "I feel I did question that," but added that he couldn't recall doing so.

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