Portland shooting suspect followed right-wing activists after spotting them downtown, unsealed arrest warrant says

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This is a screen grab from the Multnomah County District Attorney’s police affidavit for a warrant for the arrest of Michael Reinoehl in the murder of Aaron Danielson. The document includes this surveillance photo with both men in the frame. (Multnomah County District Attorney)

Prosecutors in Oregon released recently unsealed court documents Friday alleging that self-described anti-fascist Michael Forest Reinoehl hid in a parking garage before following two supporters of the right-wing Patriot Prayer group after spotting them during street protests last weekend.

Moments later, the records allege, Reinhoel shot and killed one of the men, Aaron “Jay” Danielson.

The records were made public a day after a fugitive task force fatally shot Reinoehl near Lacey, Thurston County.

The records include a sworn statement by a Portland police detective that says video surveillance footage taken from a parking garage and other information support that Reinoehl, 48, who has said in previous interviews that he worked security for Black Lives Matter protests, shot and killed Danielson, 39, after seeing him and a friend walking downtown amid protests on Aug. 29.

Just before 8:45 p.m that day, the garage video captured Reinoehl as he spotted Danielson and Chandler Pappas — also an avowed supporter of the far-right Patriot Prayer group — walking behind him on Southwest Third Avenue just south of Alder Street, Portland Police Detective Rico Beniga wrote in the probable cause affidavit. Reinoehl soon ducked into the parking garage of the Moda Tower, waiting until the two men passed by, the statement said.

At the time they walked by, the video showed Danielson “appeared to be holding a can in his right hand and what appears to be an expandable baton in his left hand,” Beniga’s statement says. Seconds later, Reinoehl emerged from the garage and followed the men as they crossed the street, with Reinoehl “reaching toward the pocket or pouch on his waistband,” the detective wrote.

“The shooting occurs shortly thereafter and is not captured on the surveillance video,” Beniga wrote. Reinoehl is captured briefly on the footage with his right arm “raised as he is facing toward Danielson.” He is then seen running north, the statement says.

Danielson was shot in the chest and died at the scene.

Investigators later recovered a baton and a bullet-damaged bear spray canister from the street near Danielson’s body. They also recovered a loaded gun from Danielson’s waistband, Beniga’s affidavit said.

The detective’s statement, which also details how police used photos and video footage of Portland’s other protests to help identify Reinoehl as the shooter, helped police obtain a warrant from a Multnomah County court on Wednesday for Reinoehl’s arrest on second-degree murder and illegal gun possession charges.

A day later, Reinoehl was killed amid a hail of gunfire after a fugitive task force tried to apprehend him outside an apartment complex near Lacey.

During the encounter at the Tanglewilde Terrace Townhouses, Reinoehl left an apartment and got into a car, and then, after officers used their vehicles to box him in, “produced a handgun,” authorities have said. Four officers fired shots at Reinoehl; investigators say they haven’t determined whether he fired at the officers. Reinoehl was killed at the scene. A task forced headed by the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office is now investigating Reinoehl’s shooting.

Reineohl’s death occurred the same day VICE News aired an interview during which he appeared to admit shooting Danielson, but said the act was “totally justified” and done in self-defense to protect a friend.

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt said in a statement Friday authorities “still do not have a full understanding” of Reinoehl’s death.

“The apprehension of a fugitive, in particular one under investigation for murder, is especially dangerous for law enforcement,” Schmidt said, adding he was “thankful that no one else was injured or killed.”

Schmidt’s office said Friday that it sought to initially seal the police affidavit at the request of law enforcement, but asked the court to make the records public after Reinoehl’s death.

After obtaining a warrant Wednesday, police searched Reinoehl’s home and recovered clothes that matched those worn by Reinoehl at the time of the killing, the records said. Police also found ammunition that matched the Winchester .380-caliber casing recovered from the crime scene, it said.

Portland detectives also obtained data from the phone of Reinoehl’s son, who was recently investigated for an unrelated crime in Clackamas County. Among the texts to the son was one on Aug. 7 from a contact labeled “Dad.” According to Beniga’s statement, it said: “Sell me the gun for a quarter pound of weed and $100 I’m getting tired of this (expletive) I need a piece now.”

The affidavit released Friday likely won’t fully put an end to dueling narratives of what transpired immediately before the shooting, as tensions have escalated between Portland’s racial injustice protesters and counter-protesters in recent days.

In his statement, Beniga cites among the reviewed evidence a video by Justin Dunlap, a livestream chronicler of the protests, that captured the shooting. Dunlap, who has since reviewed the video numerous times since the shooting, told The Seattle Times it appeared to show Danielson advancing several steps toward the two other men as they crossed the street, and releasing bear spray just before the sound of two pops made by gunfire.

A Portland detective also interviewed a motorist who was driving by at the time of the shooting who told them “he saw the male who was shot [Danielson] pull out a large can and spray it, which was followed by two gunshots,” the affidavit states.

Beniga came to a different conclusion about the sequence of events depicted on the video, saying that while Danielson advanced toward Reinoehl, the explosion of “what appears to be a gaseous substance” occurs after the first gunshot — not before. The can of bear spray recovered near Danielson’s body “exhibited damage consistent with being struck by a bullet,” the detective’s statement added.

In interviews with conservative journalists this past week, Pappas has said Danielson raised a can of bear spray as the shooting occurred, but that a bullet went through it and struck his friend, causing the explosion of spray into the air.

Pappas also said during one of the interviews that both he and Danielson were unarmed at the time of the shooting, which is contradicted in the police affidavit.

“I believe it was just a random assassination attempt,” Pappas said. “I think it was planned. I think they were looking for somebody to hurt. I think they’re looking for somebody just like us who was down there unprotected, who didn’t go and bring guns because we’re not, we didn’t have any intention to kill people.”

Investigators, however, recovered a Glock Model 17 from Danielson’s waistband, and found one Horady 9-mm Luger red-tip round in the chamber and 19 more rounds in the gun’s extended magazine, the detective’s statement said. The hollow-point bullets are marketed as “critical defense” ammunition, according to their manufacturer.

The detective added that investigators “also located three fully loaded 9-mm magazines from the cargo pockets of Danielson’s shorts.”

Lewis Kamb: 206-464-2932 or lkamb@seattletimes.com; .
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com; .