An Olympia police officer will not face criminal charges for shooting two black men after they allegedly tried to steal beer from a supermarket in May. The Olympia Police Department announced it is conducting an internal review of the incident.
OLYMPIA — Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim announced Wednesday that he will not bring criminal charges against an Olympia police officer who shot two men in May after they allegedly tried to assault the officer.
Officer Ryan Donald, 35, shot brothers Bryson Chaplin and Andre Thompson early the morning of May 21 after a confrontation with the two men on a dark street. The confrontation came after Donald responded to a call that the two men had tried to steal beer from the Westside Safeway store.
Donald, who was not injured, reported by radio that he had been assaulted with a skateboard during an encounter.
Tunheim said he has determined the shooting was justified.
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The shooting paralyzed Chaplin, 21, from the waist down and sparked protest demonstrations that rippled through the city. Donald is white and Chaplin and Thompson, 24, are black. The shooting occurred amid a wider, national conversation around police brutality of blacks, after a string of fatal shootings around the country.
Still, Tunheim, speaking during a news conference, said race was not a factor in what he described as a “complex case.”
He said Donald’s statements to investigators were consistent with physical evidence, radio traffic and witness statements. He said he believes the incident “unfolded substantially” as Donald recounted to investigators.
He also noted that other than brief statements, Chaplin and Thompson have refused to be interviewed at length about the incident.
Tunheim said the standard his office used in determining whether charges were warranted was whether a jury would likely convict Donald based on the information his office reviewed.
Tunheim said law-enforcement officers in Washington state are allowed to use deadly force if the officer believes a felony has been committed and/or whether the officer believes his life has been threatened. He said officers are allowed to use deadly force if they act in good faith and without malice.
Donald, who was placed on paid leave after the shooting, will remain on leave while the Olympia Police Department conducts an internal investigation.
Tunheim also said he has filed assault charges against the brothers for allegedly attacking Donald and for allegedly throwing a case of beer at a supermarket clerk during the alleged shoplifting incident.
Donald was one of several officers who responded to the shoplifting call shortly before 1 a.m., after store employees reported two men with skateboards tried to steal a case of beer. Video released from the store shows one of the men carrying a case of Corona beer toward the exit, and tossing the case of beer toward a store employee who had come to confront him.
In the video, the employee can be seen blocking the case with her hand as it lands at her feet with glass bottles breaking.
In an interview conducted by outside law-enforcement agencies investigating the shooting, Donald said that when he tried to speak to the two men after finding them a short time later on Cooper Point Road, one of them grabbed the officer’s shirt sleeve and tried to pull him down.
The other man raised a skateboard and Donald said he thought the man was going to strike him in the head. That’s when the officer drew his gun and fired the first set of shots, striking one of the men, according to the interview.
The two men then ran into a nearby wooded area and Donald reloaded his handgun before pursuing to the edge of the woods and waiting for more officers, according to the interview.
The men emerged from where they were hiding and approached Donald in a threatening manner, according to Donald. He fired again, hitting each of the men after they ignored orders to lie on the ground.
Donald fired at least 10 shots total, one of which went through the window of a nearby home, according to the shooting investigation.
Tunheim said the shootings were investigated as three separate events. He said his office examined each event individually to determine whether the shooting was justified.
The shooting led to demonstrations that day by several hundred people who marched through downtown, as well as a smaller, confrontational protest later that night.
Given the national outcry over the killings and shootings by police of African-Americans spanning from New York to Ferguson, Mo., local law enforcement worried about wider protests.
In a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts announced an internal review would be launched to determine whether Donald violated any department policies and procedures during the course of the incident.
Because of that review, which he estimated will take two weeks, Roberts said he couldn’t comment on the shooting investigation or Tunheim’s decisions.
But Roberts acknowledged that “issues of bias, power, privilege and race are challenging communities across this nation.”
Roberts said he had been meeting with community leaders and the department is taking steps to address those issues. Among them, the department will review its hiring practices “to determine ways to appropriately screen for bias” and will also train officers about implicit bias, Roberts said.
“We must recognize that explicit and implicit bias exists in all institutions,” said Roberts. “Including policing.”
As he concluded, a handful of demonstrators chanted, “Fire Officer Donald!”