Justice official backs Potts on shooting at Ruby Ridge She says others gave shoot-on-sight orders

October 19, 1995|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Larry Potts, the former deputy director of the FBI who was ousted from his job over the deadly siege in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, gained some ground yesterday when a top Justice Department official backed him up in a dispute over the incident.

Mr. Potts, who supervised the FBI operation at Ruby Ridge from the bureau's headquarters, has long denied that he approved the shoot-on-sight rules adopted for the confrontation. And yesterday, Jamie S. Gorelick, the deputy attorney general, testified at a Senate hearing on the confrontation that she believed him.

Nevertheless, Mr. Potts' subordinates, among them Eugene Glenn and Dick Rogers, the bureau's two commanders at the scene, have said that it was Mr. Potts who authorized the aggressive rules that were in effect on Aug. 22, 1992.

It was then that an FBI sniper shot and killed Vicki Weaver, the wife of Randall C. Weaver, a white separatist, at the couple's cabin in Idaho. A day earlier, the Weavers' 14-year-old son, Sam, and a deputy U.S. marshal, William Degan, were killed in a bTC shootout involving federal agents.

"I think the rules of engagement, including the word 'should,' were approved by Mr. Rogers and Mr. Glenn," Ms. Gorelick testified yesterday. "I believe the evidence does not substantiate that they were approved by Mr. Potts."

Nevertheless, she remained critical of Mr. Potts' conduct. "I think Mr. Potts and Mr. Glenn discussed the rules," Ms. Gorelick said. "But neither one took the time or effort to -- which I think is appalling -- to decide which rules they were talking about."

Ms. Gorelick said that she believed the rules, which said agents "should" shoot at any armed adult men observed outside the cabin, did have an impact on the sniper's state of mind when he fired the shot that killed Mrs. Weaver.

But Ms. Gorelick added that she considered the shooting justified under standard policies on the use of force.

In another development, the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on terrorism disclosed a pair of notes Mr. Potts prepared on Aug. 21, 1992, the night he discussed the rules with Mr. Rogers.

The notes, one a handwritten memorandum and the other a typed version of the first memo, said the rules -- as Mr. Potts understood them -- would advise agents only that they "may" or "can" use lethal force. The language appeared to be consistent with the FBI's policy on the use of deadly force.

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