Surveillance footage released Friday captures an attempt to shoplift at a Safeway in Olympia that led to the later shooting of two young black men by a white police officer.
OLYMPIA — Less than 45 minutes before they were shot by an Olympia police officer, Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin were captured on surveillance video trying to steal a case of beer from a Safeway supermarket, police said.
The footage released by police Friday shows both men carrying their skateboards before entering the store, as well as the failed theft, police said. That incident prompted store employees to call police, leading to a roadside encounter that ended when Officer Ryan Donald shot the stepbrothers early Thursday morning.
The shooting of the African-American men by the white officer has sparked a public outcry. Officials have said there is no early evidence to indicate race played a role in the shooting.
The video from the Safeway store was released by the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, part of a team of several law-enforcement departments with detectives investigating the shooting. On Friday, Chaplin, 21, and Thompson, 24, both remained hospitalized in serious condition.
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Donald, 35, wasn’t injured in the encounter, but Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts has said an officer has “the right to defend himself” if attacked with an object that could be used as a deadly weapon.
At one point on the video, the men are seen outside the Safeway with their arms draped over each other, as if sharing a joke or sincere conversation. A few seconds later, one spins around with his skateboard before falling to the ground.
Before entering the store, one of the young men takes a watermelon from an outside display and appears to carry it to the parking lot. When he returns to camera range he no longer has the melon.
Video from another surveillance camera, this one inside the store, shows one of the men carrying a case of Corona beer toward the exit. As a store employee runs from behind the man to confront him, the man tosses the beer toward her and runs out the door.
The employee blocks the case with her hand and it lands at her feet, glass bottles shattering.
In a transcript of a 911 call released Friday by police, the employee alleged this wasn’t the first time one of the men had been involved in a theft.
The employee describes the men to a dispatcher as African Americans on skateboards. She also says, “And tried to, uh, he stole a beer earlier and he tried to do it again,” according to the transcript. “He threw the beer at me and hit my hand.”
The man is seen running out of the store entrance at about 12:53 a.m., according to the time stamp on the footage.
Not long after, Donald, responding to a dispatch call about the theft, stopped Chaplin and Thompson a short distance from the supermarket and “a few minutes later, the officer notified dispatch that he had been involved in a shooting.”
Two witnesses who were driving by and saw Donald with his gun drawn “said they saw another man advancing aggressively toward the officer,” Chief Deputy Brad Watkins of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday.
While the exact details surrounding the shooting haven’t been released, the incident sparked a community gathering, and separately, a march by several hundred people Thursday evening to protest the shootings.
At the gathering, at a temple in downtown Olympia, several residents called for more citizen oversight of law enforcement.
Reuben Yancey, a 62-year-old retiree, told those gathered, who included Police Chief Roberts, that he didn’t believe the shooting would have occurred if the men had been white. “The racial aspect of it can’t be avoided,” said Yancey.
At a separate event, marchers chanted and shouted from Harrison Avenue on the west side of town all the way to City Hall downtown on the east side.
One protester began banging on City Hall windows, but other demonstrators shouted that person down until the banging stopped. Officers kept a low profile during the march, and later the department on its Twitter feed thanked community members several times for their restraint.
“We appreciate the peaceful protests!” read one tweet.
But at about 11:30 p.m., a smaller group of protesters took a more militant tone against the shootings and officers — and drew a heavier presence from the Olympia Police Department. Self-proclaimed anarchists gathered to march, their faces covered with black bandannas. The protesters hurled insults at police.
“Whose streets? Our streets! Tear up the concrete!” chanted demonstrators walking in the middle of Fourth Avenue East, a main drag downtown that includes City Hall and the Police Department’s offices.
Tension mounted, and police and demonstrators clashed briefly in front of City Hall. Police fired at least three flash-bangs and briefly used nightsticks to drive the crowd back. A few rocks were thrown at officers.
Officers pressed the demonstrators east on Fourth Avenue East, and the marchers dispersed around 12:15 a.m. Friday.
Meanwhile, a handful of demonstrators by City Hall held signs supporting officers.
“If you look at Olympia’s track record, as far as how well our police do, you realize that our city is very peaceful,” said Joe Gunn, a 19-year-old Olympia resident.
Other than the surveillance video, the transcript of the 911 call and some details about the late-night demonstration, police released no new information Friday about the shooting. The department, however, continued to release information on a webpage created to update the public on the investigation.
Calls seeking comment from relatives of Chaplin and Thompson were not returned.