The Nightmare of Idaho's Ruby Ridge
As a new inquiry begins, questions linger
The U.S. Marshals Service, which is responsible for fugitives, then took over with what the Justice review later called an "extraordinarily cautious" approach to apprehending Weaver over the next 18 months. Yet attempts by the marshals to negotiate Weaver's surrender through intermediaries were cut off by the U.S. attorney's office in Boise as inappropriate. The Justice review later said that decision was "erroneous and unduly hampered the marshals' efforts."
Ultimately, the marshals developed an undercover plan in which agents posing as a married couple would buy adjacent property and establish a relationship with the Weavers. On subsequent visits, teams of marshals were to hide nearby in hopes of finding an opportunity to safely arrest Randy Weaver.
As they formulated their plans, the marshals decided new surveillance was necessary to find locations for the backup teams. It was during that surveillance on Aug. 21, 1992, that the first shootings occurred. Three marshals stayed at an observation post while Marshals Larry Cooper, Art Roderick and William Degan went onto the Weaver property. At one point, the Weavers' Labrador, Striker, began to give chase, trailed by Randy Weaver, 14-year-old Sammy Weaver and Kevin Harris, as the trio of marshals fled down a hill. When a gun battle broke out, Randy Weaver retreated after a brief verbal exchange and fired into the air.
Acquittal. Evidence indicates that Marshal Roderick shot the dog, Harris killed Marshal Degan and Marshal Cooper apparently unknowingly shot young Sammy to death. But the sequence is disputed. The marshals contended that the shooting began when Harris wheeled and fired at Degan as Degan and Cooper rose to identify themselves. Weaver and Harris claimed that Marshal Roderick began the shooting by firing at the dog, which caused Sammy Weaver to fire at Roderick in retaliation. A jury apparently believed Weaver and Harris, acquitting them of assaulting federal officers.
Immediately after the shootings, the marshals sought help from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which dispatched its elite Hostage Rescue Team to Ruby Ridge. At first, officials believed the situation to be the most dangerous the HRT had ever encountered. The Justice Department, however, criticized FBI personnel for failing to gather sufficient intelligence when they arrived.
Many believe the bureau's exaggerated perception of the threat from Weaver led to creation of unprecedented rules of engagement at Ruby Ridge. The FBI's standard rules permit agents to use deadly force to defend their own lives or the lives of others from what they believe to be the threat of death or grievous bodily harm. But the rules at Ruby Ridge instructed HRT snipers that they "can and should" shoot any armed adult males appearing outside the Weaver cabin, even before any announcement was made informing the Weavers they were surrounded and requesting their surrender. The Justice task force found that key parts of the rules "contravened the Constitution of the United States."
Indeed, no surrender request had been made when FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi fired two now infamous shots from about 200 yards on August 22. Horiuchi's first shot hit Randy Weaver in the arm as he was crossing from the cabin to a "birthing shed." Weaver said he was simply going to view his son's body, but Horiuchi claimed Weaver appeared to be positioning himself to shoot at an FBI helicopter. The Justice review said the first shot met the constitutional standard of "objective reasonableness," but Horiuchi later admitted under cross-examination that he didn't know where the helicopter was, and a judge dismissed charges that Weaver "forcibly interfered" with the helicopter.