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Idaho shootout survivors get $3 million settlement

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department agreed yesterday to pay $3.1 million to the surviving members of the Randall C. Weaver family for the 1992 Idaho shootout that left Mr. Weaver's wife and son dead at the hands of federal law officers.

During the raid on the Weaver compound near Ruby Ridge, Idaho, a deputy U.S. marshal also was shot to death by a friend of Mr. Weaver.

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Last week, four FBI officials, including Larry A. Potts, who had been elevated to the No. 2 post in the bureau, were suspended while federal prosecutors investigate whether they concealed their approval of the "shoot-on-sight" orders given to the FBI sharpshooters. A fifth FBI official was suspended last month in connection with the incident.

Federal law and FBI policy restrict the use of deadly force to situations in which agents have reason to believe they are in danger or in which they are protecting someone else's life.

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The Weavers had asked for millions of dollars in damages through civil claims against the government and a lawsuit

against several federal officials.

Mr. Weaver, a white separatist, is little-known in the East, but his name is a household word in parts of the Mountain West. There, Ruby Ridge has become a rallying cry -- along with Waco, Texas -- for militia members, activist gun owners and others troubled by what they see as intrusive conduct by federal law enforcement agencies, particularly the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Senate Judiciary Committee hearings into the conduct of the ATF and the FBI at Ruby Ridge have been scheduled for Sept. 6. They were called by Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican.

Although Mr. Specter is seeking the Republican nomination for president, those close to him say the hearings will probably not be marred by the partisan rancor that was seen at the recent Waco hearings. They point out that Ruby Ridge shootout took place before President Clinton was in office, and say that they hope the administration will not feel compelled to defend all that happened there.

As in Waco, the standoff at the Weaver cabin had its origins in an undercover ATF operation. An agent persuaded Mr. Weaver to sell him two shotguns with the barrels sawed off one-quarter of an inch below the federally allowed 16-inch limit.

After being indicted on federal firearms charges, Mr. Weaver failed to appear at his 1991 trial, leading to surveillance of his spread in the mountains of northern Idaho.

Mr. Weaver had moved there in 1983 with his wife, Vicki, and their three children to get away from modern society, which they considered decadent, and away from the reach of the federal government, which they were convinced was evil and corrupt.

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In Idaho, the couple had a fourth child, a daughter named Elisheba. The family also observed an unorthodox religion that holds that white Americans and Northern European Christians are the true remnants of the Israelites identified in the Old Testament as the chosen people.

On Aug. 21, 1992, the government decided to move in on Randy Weaver. Three members of the U.S. Marshal's Service advanced on the Weaver cabin. When the family's Labrador retriever began barking, Randy Weaver, his 14-year-old son, Samuel, and a 25-year-old friend, Kevin Harris, grabbed their rifles and went .. to investigate.

One of the marshals shot the dog. Sam Weaver fired some wild shots in retaliation and then was ordered back to the cabin by his father. As he ran, the boy was shot in the back and killed by a marshal.

Mr. Harris then raised his deer rifle and shot back at the marshals, killing William Degan, who was not the officer who had shot Sam Weaver. The marshals retreated and called in the FBI. Officers responded with two six-man FBI sniper teams, a helicopter and armored personnel carrier -- and orders from their superiors to shoot on sight any armed adult male on the property.

It is this order that is at the heart of the investigations of Ruby Ridge.

On the second day of the siege, Randy Weaver, Mr. Harris and 16-year-old Sara Weaver, the oldest Weaver child, walked from the cabin to a shed where they had placed Sam's body.

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As he opened the door to the shed, Randy Weaver was wounded in the shoulder by an FBI sniper. Mr. Harris, Mr. Weaver and his daughter sprinted back toward the cabin, urged on by Vicki Weaver, who was standing in the doorway holding Elisheba, then 10 months old.

FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi, firing at the fleeing trio, hit Vicki Weaver in the head, killing her. Eight days later, the Weaver clan surrendered.

At his trial, Mr. Weaver was acquitted of the most serious charges against him; the jury apparently agreed that it was a case of entrapment by overzealous ATF agents. By then, three people were dead, and the the FBI was left reeling.

Yesterday, the Justice Department used some unusually personal language in expressing hope that those whose lives were deeply affected by the siege at Ruby Ridge would begin to recover.

"The settlement reflects the loss to the Weaver children of their mother and brother," it said. "By entering into a settlement, the United States hopes to take a substantial step toward healing the wounds the incident inflicted."

Under the settlement, which resolves all claims by the family against the government, the three surviving Weaver children will each receive $1 million. Mr. Weaver will receive $100,000.

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But this may not be the end. Randall Day, the local prosecutor in Boundary County, Idaho, is considering whether to charge the ++ FBI sharpshooters and their superiors under state law.

In addition, the federal investigation into the conduct of the FBI has become a criminal probe. It is being conducted by U.S. Attorney Eric Holder in Washington, who is looking into the possibility of perjury or obstruction of justice by the five suspended FBI officers.

At least two of the five have admitted to Justice Department investigators that they destroyed FBI documents about the siege, officials have said. A third has admitted knowing that documents were destroyed during the bureau's own internal review of the case.


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