Portland murder suspect Michael Reinoehl likely fired off a single round from a handgun before four officers unleashed the barrage of gunfire that killed him in Thurston County last September, according to new information released Wednesday.
That’s the key takeaway in a 10-point public summary of findings from a six-month probe into the U.S. Marshal-led task force’s Sept. 3 fatal shooting of Reinoehl, a 48-year-old Oregon man suspected of killing a pro-Trump protester in Portland five days earlier.
Still, the finding on that key point of contention — whether or not Reinoehl fired at officers — isn’t ironclad, a spokesperson for the investigation acknowledged.
“We could not confirm with 100% certainty that he fired out of the car because (investigators) couldn’t find the round or where it impacted,” Thurston County sheriff’s Lt. Cameron Simper said. “But we do believe that that’s what happened.”
That belief is based on statements taken from “several citizens” and task force members, along with a spent .380 shell casing recovered from Reinoehl’s car that matched a gun found in his possession, according to the summary and Simper.
The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, which headed the multi-agency investigation of the incident, announced Wednesday that the probe had been completed and released the summary of findings.
Aside from the finding that Reinoehl fired first, the summary noted, based on officer statements, that he failed to comply with orders to surrender and was reaching for a gun in his possession when he was shot.
The full investigation report, which has yet to be publicly released, has been turned over to Thurston County prosecutors, who will decide whether the shooting was justified or if any charges are warranted, Simper said. Investigators did not make charging recommendations when turning over the investigation, he said.
Reinoehl, a regular at Portland summer protests who once described himself as “100% ANTIFA,” had fled Oregon and was considered armed and dangerous with a second-degree murder warrant issued for his arrest. He was suspected of shooting dead Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a supporter of the right-wing Patriot Prayer group, in downtown Portland during a night of protests when antifascist activists clashed with pro-Trump supporters.
In the days after Danielson’s death, members of the Pacific Northwest Violent Offenders Task Force, acting on a tip, tracked Reinoehl to a first-floor unit at the Tanglewilde Terrace Townhomes outside of Lacey.
Then-Lt. Ray Brady of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office said task force members approached Reinhoel after he left an apartment, got into a Volkswagen, “started it up and attempted to leave.”
“As he did, they pulled in and attempted to box in the vehicle,” Brady said.
While Reinoehl was still in the car, officers fired into the vehicle, and they fired more shots after he got out, Brady said. He died at the scene.
At the time, Brady said task force officers had not given statements, and he could not confirm then whether Reinoehl had fired any shots. The U.S. Marshals Service, in a separate statement, said at the time Reinoehl “produced” a firearm, but made no mention of him shooting it.
One eyewitness, Chad Smith, initially told The Seattle Times that he saw the suspect get out of his car, pull out his gun and shoot toward officers as he walked backward. But Smith later changed his account in an interview with Vice, saying he did not see Reinoehl pull a weapon at all.
Other witnesses, including 21 people interviewed by The New York Times, said they did not hear officers identify themselves or give commands before opening fire. Another resident of the apartments told The Seattle Times she saw officers jump out of unmarked cars with guns, and one later told her the suspect had shot first, “so that’s why they shot back.”
The summary released Wednesday did not provide a narrative of what occurred, but briefly laid out 10 specific findings. Some information previously had been released.
“Witness statements indicate that the Officers were readily identifiable based on their badges, vests and markings,” one bullet point in the summary said.
Others, attributed to “officer statements,” indicated that Reinoehl “failed to comply with instructions to surrender,” and “had a firearm in his possession and he was reaching for it.”
Citing “witness statements,” the summary stated, “there was an exchange of gunfire, which was initiated by Reinoehl from inside his vehicle.”
In an interview Wednesday, Simper, the sheriff’s spokesperson, offered a few more details not included in the summary.
In all, the four task force officers, including a Lakewood police officer, two Pierce County sheriff’s deputies and a state corrections officer, fired 40 rounds, he said. Five shots struck Reinoehl and a sixth may have grazed him, he added.
The state crime lab determined that the .380 caliber shell casing found in Reinoehl’s car came “from the pistol found in Reinoehl’s possession” after he was shot, Simper said. That gun was also definitively linked to Danielson’s shooting in Portland, he said.
Simper did not immediately respond Wednesday to follow up on questions about whether forensics tests determined how recently Reinoehl’s gun had been fired and where it was found on his body.
Seattle Times staff writer Joseph O’Sullivan contributed to this report.