October 1998

HEADLINE: The Firing Range; FBI actions at Ruby Ridge, Idaho; Brief Article


Horiuchi: The rules were . . . any adult male who came out of the cabin armed could be shot at--if the shot could be taken without harming the children.

Q: And after the call-out?

Horiuchi: After the call-out was made, any adult--this included Vicki Weaver--who came out with a weapon could be shot at.

Q: What about the children? What were the rules as far as the children were concerned?

Horiuchi: The rules for the children were basically the standard rules of FBI deadly force. And that is, if any of our lives or the lives of innocent bystanders were threatened, the children could be shot.

Q: Would it have been possible to fire off a warning shot?

Horiuchi: Sir, we do not fire warning shots in the FBI.

Playboy first reported on the incident at Ruby Ridge in June 1995. In 1992 federal agents had staked out the cabin of Randy Weaver, an Idaho man who had missed a court date on a weapons charge. (He had allegedly sold sawed-off shotguns to an informant.) In an article called Overkill we described the Idaho confrontation in which federal marshals shot and killed 14- year-old Sammy Weaver. The FBI Hostage Rescue Team took over, with orders that could be boiled down to one sentence: "If you see 'em, shoot 'em." On August 22, 1992 FBI sharpshooter Lon Horiuchi, hidden on the ridge, opened fire without warning. His first shot hit Randy Weaver in the back. His second shot killed 42-year-old Vicki Weaver as she stood in her cabin doorway holding her 10-month-old baby. After passing through Vicki Weaver's head, the shot also wounded family friend Kevin Harris. Horiuchi claimed Harris was the intended target--that he did not see Vicki Weaver.

A 1994 confidential Justice Department report condemned the sniper's action: "Although Horiuchi could not see behind the front door of the cabin, he had reason to believe someone might be on the other side when he took his second shot. . . . By fixing his crosshairs on the door when he believed someone was behind it, he placed the children and Vicki Weaver at risk, in violation of the special rules of engagement."

Federal officials conducted a reenactment of the shooting, using the same rifle and scope. One observer said he could see the wedding ring on the hand of the person standing behind the cabin door.

Nonetheless, in August 1997 the Justice Department announced that the on-site supervisors who came up with the bizarre rules of engagement would not be prosecuted, that there was "little circumstantial evidence" that FBI agents may have had "an intent to use more force than was necessary."

That same month, Horiuchi was charged with involuntary manslaughter by an Idaho County prosecutor. The charges alleged that he "did unlawfully, but without malice, kill Vicki Weaver, a human being, in the operation of a firearm in a reckless, careless or negligent manner." FBI Director Louis Freeh defended Agent Horiuchi's actions despite the 1994 report that concluded the agent had acted "needlessly and unjustifiably."

After getting his trial moved to federal court, Horiuchi's lawyers (financed by the Justice Department) filed a motion to dismiss the case, claiming that Horiuchi was immune from state or local prosecution because he was following federal orders at the time of the killing. Randy Weaver had often been labeled a white supremacist in the press (as though that alone justified the brutal confrontation), but it was the Constitution's supremacy clause that decided Horiuchi's fate. The law makes federal agents immune from state prosecution in certain circumstances. One previous court case protected an agent who killed a suspect he thought was armed. The suspect had no gun, but the court said it was sufficient that the agent thought he did.

On May 14 federal judge Edward Lodge decreed that the state of Ida- ho could not prosecute Horiuchi for killing Vicki Weaver, that the agent had done what was "necessary and proper." Lodge focused intently on Horiuchi's subjective beliefs: As long as Horiuchi did not believe he was acting wrongfully, he could not be tried.

Horiuchi testified that he had opened fire because he'd heard an FBI helicopter take off and feared that Randy Weaver might open fire. Judge Lodge heard about the same helicopter in a previous trial. In 1993, when Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris faced murder charges for returning fire and killing a marshal involved in the first shoot-out, Lodge dismissed for lack of evidence the federal charge that Weaver or Harris had tried to fire at the helicopter. But now, if Horiuchi believed there was a threat, that was enough.

Strangely, Lodge blamed Vicki Weaver for her own death. He decreed that "it would be objectively reasonable for Mr. Horiuchi to believe that one would not expect a mother to place herself and her baby behind an open door outside the cabin after a shot had been fired and her husband had called out that he had been hit." Lodge added, "The fact that all parties, including Mrs. Weaver, were armed, and the haste with which the other two people entered the cabin, demonstrated the hostility of the situation."

When the FBI turns your home into a firing range, it's your fault.