The sister of two men shot by Olympia police Thursday said she saw the incident but did not realize members of her family had been wounded.
In an interview with The Olympian, Jasmine Thompson of Olympia said she saw a man in a white shirt being shot by the officer. She said she was coming home from the hospital, where she was examined for a work-related injury, when she saw the incident. She said she was close enough that she worried about bullets flying through the car window.
She arrived home, and her brothers weren’t there.
“That’s when I started to worry,” Thompson said. “I thought, ‘Did I just see my brother get shot?’ ”
Lt. Cliff Ziesemer of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office said investigators have interviewed Thompson about what she saw.
Police Chief Ronnie Roberts said the two wounded men weren’t armed with guns or any other weapons at the time of the shooting, but one was accused of attacking the officer with a skateboard before he was shot. The two men who were shot are African American; the officer is white.
“There’s no indication that race was a factor,” Roberts said.
Olympia police identified the men as Andre Thompson, 24, and Bryson Chaplin, 21. The men are brothers who live in Olympia.
Bryson Chaplin is in critical condition at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia. Andre Thompson is in stable but serious condition at Tacoma General Hospital, Chief Deputy Brad Watkins said Thursday afternoon.
Both men are expected to survive, Watkins said Thursday afternoon.
“It’s unfortunate that an officer was involved in a situation where he believed he had to use deadly force,” Roberts said. “An investigation will determine whether that was an appropriate use of force.”
The incident began about 1 a.m. when employees at the Safeway at 3215 Harrison Ave. W. reported that two men had tried to steal beer and when confronted by employees, threw the items at them and fled, Roberts said.
Store employees described the thieves to police as two black men with skateboards, and described their clothing, height, weight and tattoos. An officer found two men matching the description and made contact about 15 minutes later.
Roberts said when the officer exited the car, he was attacked by one of the men. The officer shot him. The two suspects ran into a nearby wooded area, and the officer reported that shots had been fired.
The men walked back to the road a short time later, and engaged in another confrontation with the officer, Roberts said. The second suspect was shot multiple times in the torso.
Roberts said the officer wasn’t injured in the attack.
But Chief Deputy Watkins, of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, said there is some evidence that an assault occurred.
“What we’re not sure of right now is the extent of the assault,” Watkins said.
Jasmine Thompson and the men’s mother, Crystal Chaplin of Olympia, said that about 8 a.m. a law enforcement officer came to their home in a neighborhood off of Cooper Point Road and told them the two men had been shot by police.
They talked to reporters at the scene of the shooting before driving to Tacoma to see Andre Thompson in the hospital.
Both women said they believe the men were shot because of mistaken identity.
Crystal Chaplin said she doesn’t believe her sons would shoplift.
“There are a lot of black men around,” Crystal Chaplin said. “It could have been anybody.”
Shortly before the shooting, the brothers were at the Yauger Park skateboarding area behind the Safeway, according to South Sound resident and skater Conor “Crabe” Crabill.
Crabill told The Olympian he met the brothers a couple of weeks ago at the park, and described them as friendly and easygoing. On Wednesday night, Crabill said he and the brothers were skating among a small group, and when the group decided to disband for the night, the brothers left the park by themselves about an hour before the shooting.
“I thought they were just going home,” Crabill said Thursday.
James Johnson, who lives about a block from the scene, said his wife awoke to the sound of gunfire shortly after 1 a.m. She woke him up, and they checked on their children. About a minute later, they heard another burst of shots.
“We heard a pop, pop, pop, and I wondered if someone was shooting off fireworks,” Johnson said. “But then I thought, ‘That’s not the right spacing for fireworks.’ It sounded like a gun.”
After a brief pause, only a few seconds, Johnson heard another set of shots.
“The shots were rapidly fired and evenly spaced,” Johnson said. “To me, it sounded like it was someone who knew how to operate a semi-automatic handgun. The pause sounded like he was taking a second to assess the situation.”
Johnson, an attorney for the Attorney General’s Office, said his family has lived in the neighborhood for nearly two years. He had never met Bryson Chaplin or Andre Thompson.
Roberts identified the officer who shot the men as Officer Ryan Donald, a 35-year-old officer who has been with the department for more than three years, and who regularly works the graveyard shift. He said there are no records of the public making complaints about the officer.
Donald previously worked as an Army police officer. He has been placed on administrative leave.
Roberts said the department has 68 officers, two of whom — 2.9 percent of the force — are black. According to the 2010 census, the percentage of residents of Olympia who identified themselves as black or African-American is 2 percent; for Washington, the figure is 3.6 percent.
The shooting will not be investigated by the Olympia Police Department, Roberts said. It will instead be investigated by the Thurston County Critical Incident Team, a group made up of five local law enforcement agencies. The team includes six officers from the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, five from the Lacey Police Department, three from the State Patrol and two from Tumwater.
The investigation will be led by the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office.
“We’re waiting for reports from outside entities. An example is the Washington State Patrol crime lab … It would not be unusual for this to take three to six weeks,” Watkins said.
Investigators have interviewed more than 20 people and have talked to one of the suspects.
They haven’t, however, interviewed the Donald.
“We have not taken a formal statement from the officer, which is normal protocol,” Watkins said. “It’s usually a 48 to 72 hour period.”
Watkins said studies have shown that officers remember incidents more clearly once at least 48 hours have passed. He said the interview is scheduled for Tuesday.
Once the investigation is complete, the information will be sent to the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office, Watkins said.
“They could decide to file charges for the officers, they could decided to file charges for the two men, or they could file charges for nobody,” Watkins said.
Prosecutor Jon Tunheim said his office won’t begin reviewing information until the investigation is complete.
Tunheim said officers can’t be prosecuted for excessive use of force under WA law if they operated “in good faith and without malice.”
Tunheim and Watkins explained the process during a Thursday afternoon press conference. Several members of the public attended and asked questions. For example: could the officer have used a different tool to subdue the suspects?
Roberts said the officer was equipped with several different tools, including a stun gun. He doesn’t appear to have used the stun gun.
Roberts said the Olympia Police Department doesn’t use body cams or dash cams.
Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said he hopes the community will react to the shooting in a thoughtful, nonviolent way.
“It deeply saddens me that we have two young people in the hospital as the result of an altercation with an officer of the law,” Buxbaum said. “We are committed to open dialogue where people can gather and share their feelings, show their compassion and stand up for what I think represents our values.”
A group of about 40 people gathered at City Hall at noon and waved signs and shouted, “No justice, no peace.” They dispersed without incident by 12:30 p.m.
Lennee Reid, who organized the demonstration, said she believes the shooting was unjustified.
“I take this seriously,” Reid said. “Black men are being shot, tazed and killed all over nothing. You don’t shoot people over beer. That’s not OK.”
The last police-related shooting in Olympia occurred in May 2012, when Officer Mike Hovda shot 53-year-old Bradden W. Ferber while responding to a call about a drunken driver who had crashed into another vehicle and fled on foot. When police tracked him down, Ferber allegedly raised a handgun in the officer’s direction. Although Ferber had suffered a gunshot wound to the abdomen, his cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to the coroner. The Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office later ruled that the shooting was a justified use of force by the officer.