Lewis County prosecutors on Friday charged a 39-year-old Olympia man with aggravated first-degree murder in connection with the death of Washington State Patrol Trooper Justin Schaffer, who was killed this week during a high-speed police pursuit on Interstate 5 in Chehalis.
Under state law, aggravated first-degree murder is the only crime punishable by life in prison without the possibility of release — and among the circumstances in which it can be charged is when a law-enforcement officer, corrections officer or firefighter is intentionally killed while performing official duties.
In further support of the aggravated murder charge filed against Michael David Thompson, who is accused of deliberately plowing into Schaffer as the 28-year-old trooper set up spike strips to deflate the tires of a fleeing pickup truck, prosecutors argued Thompson was armed with a deadly weapon other than a firearm; that Schaffer, who was outside his patrol vehicle when he was struck, was a particularly vulnerable victim; that the offense had a foreseeable impact on people other than the victim; and that Thompson committed the offense shortly after he was released from jail.
In addition to aggravated murder, Thompson, who was arrested Tuesday afternoon and remains jailed in lieu of $5 million bail, faces a slew of criminal charges related to a chain of events that began Monday at a convenience store in Thurston County and culminated with Thompson crashing his pickup truck after a 20-mile-long police pursuit on southbound I-5 on Tuesday.
According to the charges:
Thompson went to the Pacific Mini Mart in Lacey, Thurston County, on Monday where he placed a container of lighter fluid on the counter, then argued with the clerk. He used racial slurs against the clerk, who is Asian, and left with the lighter fluid without paying.
The clerk and another customer followed Thompson but were forced to retreat into the store when he threatened them with a stun gun. After he left, the clerk followed Thompson to the parking lot in an attempt to photograph his license plate. Thompson drove over a concrete parking block and at the clerk, who had to jump out of the way to avoid being hit.
Thompson was charged Friday with first-degree robbery, first-degree assault on the clerk, second-degree assault on the customer and malicious harassment, the state’s hate crime statute, for the racial slurs made to the clerk that put her in fear of violence based on perceptions of her race, the charges say.
Police searched the area for Thompson’s Ford F-150 pickup truck, with Washington license plates that read “HI TECH,” but were unable to locate it.
Then on Tuesday, a Thurston County Sheriff’s deputy was at the Farm Boy Restaurant in Olympia on an unrelated call when he spotted the pickup and suspect from the previous day’s robbery and assault, say the charges. The deputy attempted to pull over the pickup, but the driver refused to stop and sped off, driving south on I-5 at speeds over 100 mph.
As other police units joined the chase, the charges say Thompson drove erratically and used the freeway shoulders to pass other vehicles. In an attempt to stop the pickup, Thurston County sheriff’s deputies asked the State Patrol in Lewis County to use spike strips to deflate the vehicle’s tires.
Schaffer, who had set up near the freeway onramp at exit 79, waited on the shoulder for the pickup to approach and deployed his spike strips. That’s when the driver intentionally swerved into the trooper, throwing him more than 100 feet, charging papers say. Schaffer, a seven-year State Patrol veteran, died from his injuries at a hospital a short time later.
About a half-mile south, the pickup driver swerved into a second patrol vehicle, shearing off a metal pole that struck another trooper in the chest, the charges say. The driver crashed the pickup after getting off the freeway at exit 76 and was taken into custody after a standoff with police.
Thompson was also charged Friday with attempted first-degree murder for swerving at the second trooper and attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle, according to prosecutors.
Additionally, Thompson — who had his license revoked after an earlier conviction for driving under the influence — was charged with two counts of second-degree driving with a revoked or suspended license and one count of driving without an interlock device on his vehicle, say charging papers.
The charges also note Thompson was last released from the Thurston County Jail on Feb. 5, just seven weeks before Schaffer was killed.