August 22

This Day in History

General Interest

Aug 22, 1992:

Incident at Ruby Ridge

In the second day of a standoff at Randy Weaver's remote northern Idaho cabin, FBI sharpshooter Lon Horiuchi wounds Randy Weaver, Kevin Harrison, and kills Weaver's wife, Vicki.

Randy Weaver, a white separatist, had been targeted by the federal government after failing to appear in court to face charges related to his selling of two illegal sawed-off shotguns to an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) informant. On August 21, 1992, after a period of surveillance, U.S. marshals came upon Harrison; Weaver; Weaver's 14-year-old son, Sammy; and the family dog, Striker, on a road near the Weaver property. A marshal shot and killed the dog, prompting Sammy to fire at the marshal. In the ensuing gun battle, Sammy and U.S. Marshal Michael Degan were shot and killed. A tense standoff ensued, and on August 22 the FBI joined the marshals besieging Ruby Ridge.

Later that day, Harris, Weaver, and his daughter, Sarah, left the cabin, allegedly for the purpose of preparing Sammy's body for burial. FBI sharpshooter Lon Horiuchi, waiting 200 yards away, opened fire, allegedly because he thought Harrison was armed and intending to fire on a helicopter in the vicinity. Horiuchi wounded Weaver, and the group ran to the shed where Sammy's body was lying. When they attempted to escape back into the cabin, Horiuchi fired again, wounding Harrison as he dove through the door and killing Vicki Weaver, who was holding the door open with one hand and cradling her infant daughter with the other. Horiuchi claimed he didn't know that Vicki Weaver was standing behind the door. Harris, Weaver, and Weaver's three daughters surrendered nine days later.

In 1993, Weaver and Harris were acquitted by a federal court on murder, conspiracy, and other charges related to Degan's death, but Weaver was convicted of failing to appear for trial on the firearms charge. In 1994, the two men filed federal civil rights cases against the FBI and U.S. marshals stemming from the siege, and in 1995 the government settled Weaver's case for $3.1 million.

The controversial standoff spawned a nationwide debate on the use of force by federal law enforcement agencies, and a U.S. Senate panel accused the federal agencies involved of "substantial failures" in their handling of the Ruby Ridge operation. Of particular controversy was an FBI "rule of engagement" implemented at the beginning of the Ruby Ridge siege that stated "any armed adult male observed in the vicinity of the Weaver cabin could and should be killed." Many condemned this policy as unconstitutional. Rumors that the FBI had engaged in a cover-up regarding the Ruby Ridge operation were verified when E. Michael Kahoe, former chief of the FBI's violent crimes section, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in 1996. Kahoe, who had destroyed an official bureau critique of the standoff, was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

In 1997, FBI agent Lon Horiuchi was charged by an Idaho county prosecutor with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Vicki Weaver, but a federal judge dismissed the charge in 1998, citing the alleged immunity of federal officers from state prosecution. In 2001, a federal court of appeals overruled the ruling, stating that federal officers who violate the U.S. Constitution can be charged with state criminal offenses. However, a new Idaho prosecutor declined to pursue the manslaughter charge.

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