OLYMPIA — For much of Thursday, a fugitive task force led by U.S. marshals surveilled a brick-face apartment building in a suburban neighborhood in Thurston County.
Shortly before 7 p.m., Michael Forest Reinoehl, a 48-year Oregon man suspected of killing a pro-Trump protester in Portland on Saturday, left the building and got into a silver Volkswagen station wagon. Four law enforcement officials unleashed gunfire soon after that took his life.
“He made it to the car and started it up and attempted to leave,” Thurston County Sheriff’s Lt. Ray Brady said Friday, as more details emerged about the shooting near Lacey. “As he did, [task force officers] pulled in and attempted to box in the vehicle.”
While Reinoehl was still in the car, officers fired into the vehicle, and they fired more shots after he got out. He died at the scene, Brady said.
Reinoehl was a veteran of Portland summer protests who once described himself as “100% ANTIFA,” or antifascist. He was a suspect in the Aug. 29 fatal shooting of a supporter of the right-wing Patriot Prayer group, Aaron “Jay” Danielson, on a downtown block in that city, where supporters of President Donald Trump — who arrived in a motor caravan — and other protesters had clashed.
On Thursday, law enforcement obtained a court-authorized warrant for Reinoehl’s arrest. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office filed a “charging instrument” accusing him of “murder in the second degree with a firearm,” according to a statement and documents released Friday.
The state was “prepared to prove that Reinoehl unlawfully and intentionally, using a firearm, caused the death of Mr. Danielson,” according to the statement from the district attorney’s office.
The effort to apprehend Reinoehl, which involved the U.S. Marshals Service, the FBI and state and local law enforcement, came just as Trump is pushing a law-and-order theme in his reelection campaign. And Reinoehl’s death was noted Friday by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who in a statement called him a “violent agitator” and a “suspected murderer.”
In the Pacific Northwest, the deaths of Danielson and Reinoehl escalate tensions after a long summer of protests spurred by the May 25 death of George Floyd under a police officer’s knee in Minneapolis, as well as right-wing rallies.
In Portland, the police, at this difficult moment in the city’s history, will receive assistance from the Oregon State Police, which have been deputized by the federal government. This could lead to federal prosecution for some protesters who are arrested.
Labor Day weekend events expected in the city include a rally and march scheduled Saturday to mark the 100th day of protests against police violence and racial injustice. Then on Monday, Trump supporters are expected to organize another rally, and there could be more clashes with protesters.
Danielson died on Portland’s Third Avenue Southwest from a single shot to the chest. He wore a Patriot Prayer cap and his friend, Chandler Pappas, who was there at the time, alleged that he and Danielson were “hunted down.”
Reinoehl, in an interview that aired on Vice News Thursday evening, said he feared for his life and that the killing of Danielson was justified.
Reinoehl was named earlier this week by The Oregonian as a suspect as well as in social media posts, and his family received death threats.
“In our last conversation Mike talked constantly about wanting his children to be safe if something were to happen to him,” wrote Tiffanie Wickwire, a friend, in a Facebook post that noted his children were also being targeted. “Our last words to each other was telling each other to stay safe!!”
A protester told The Seattle Times Reinoehl sometimes acted as a scout who watched out for those who might want to harm protesters. Some photos and videos taken during the protests show him wearing a white vest and other clothing similar to that worn by the tall, thin man seen on a video of Saturday’s fatal shooting.
Reinoehl was committed to the Black Lives Matter movement, which he described in a June 8 Instagram post as a “revolution” with a need for people who are “willing and ready to fight.”
Reinoehl, in an interview this summer with Bloomberg QuickTake News, said he sometimes brought his daughter to the protests as a form of education and described how he had been “working security” during the protests and wrestled a gun away from another man threatening some young Black protesters.
“I have military experience, and so I jumped in there, and pulled the gun away from people’s heads, avoided being shot in the stomach, and I got shot through the arm,” Reinoehl told a reporter, before displaying a blood-soaked bandage wrapped around his upper right arm.
Evening gunfire in Lacey
The fugitive task force located Reinoehl in the apartment complex in the Lacey area, a couple of blocks off a main thoroughfare. Residents described it as mostly quiet and a neighborhood where children play outside, outdoor birthdays are held and residents decorate for the holidays.
Marks of gunfire could be still be seen Friday morning. A window had been shot out of one car. Meanwhile, resident Angel Romero said a bullet pierced a first-floor room in his apartment.
“One of them did enter the house, right next to my pets … and right into my kitchen wall,” said Romero. A 22-year-old veterinary assistant, Romero rushed home from work once his wife called him about the shooting.
Johnshia Chatman said she had just gotten home from an outing at a park before the shooting exploded outside her apartment, right near the lawn where she hosts social events.
She ran to her second-floor window and looked out to see unmarked law enforcement cars and officers jumping out with firearms, said Chatman, 40.
Brady, of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, said investigators had yet to determine whether the suspect fired any shots. “We do not know that at this time,” Brady said. “We do know that he was armed. He did have a firearm in his possession, but we don’t know if he fired it at this time.”
Brady, who said he was not aware of body- or dashcam videos of the shooting, described Reinoehl’s weapon as a “semi-automatic handgun.”
Another neighbor, Zack Pletcher, 27, said he thought he heard fireworks. He looked outside his window and “saw a little kid scooting off on his bike this way; he looked concerned.”
Then, next to the apartment’s mailboxes, he saw a man lying dead, Pletcher said.
“There were a lot of police officers, all the neighbors came swarming out here,” Pletcher added. “Everybody wondering what was going on.”
Pletcher voiced concern about the flurry of gunfire in his neighborhood.
He said his girlfriend’s car, as well as a neighbor’s, was struck by bullets, and “apparently one of my neighbors got bullets through her house.”
“The amount of gunshots that were fired, it was probably about 25 or 30 gunshots fired,” he said. “And you know, they ended up all over the place over there, all over the place over here — a lot of gunshots in a lot of different places. But I didn’t hear any confrontation. Nothing. I didn’t hear any, ‘Freeze. Hands up. Get on the ground.’ Anything. All I heard was gunshots. That’s it.”
Law enforcement officials have not said what prompted Reinoehl to come to Lacey. The officers involved in his shooting likely will not give formal statements until next week, Brady said.
Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock said Friday afternoon Reinoehl’s body remains in the custody of his office, pending an autopsy expected after Labor Day.
“Our examination is going to take place on Wednesday,” Warnock said. “All of the pathologists are out because of the holiday.”
Brady said that investigators have identified the residents of the apartment that Reinoehl had been in Thursday, but “we don’t know the specifics about what their relationship with him was.”
The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, which is the lead agency in the investigating task force, was not made aware of the operation to apprehend Reinoehl before the shooting, Brady said. U.S. Marshals were in charge of that operation, he said.
“They have the ability to go wherever they need to go and operate,” Brady said.
Seattle Times News researcher Miyoko Wolf and photojournalist Erika Schultz contributed to this report.