About 100 people gathered outside Olympia City Hall on Tuesday evening for a demonstration in response to the recent officer-involved shooting of two suspects in west Olympia.
Many of the demonstrators held signs and banners with messages such as “Black lives matter” and “Black youth is not disposable,” and chanted the names of Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin, the two men who were shot last week in the confrontation with an Olympia police officer.
Rafael Ruiz, a candidate for Olympia City Council, said before the meeting that he hoped the demonstration could further encourage city officials to “adjust the course of action” in police policies.
The people began assembling about an hour before the Olympia City Council meeting, with dozens expected to give public testimony in front of elected officials.
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At least one demonstrator, Gary Clover, openly showed support for Olympia police and said the officer seemed to do the right thing considering the situation. As Clover stood in front of City Hall, a woman stood next to him holding a sign with an arrow that read “This is what white supremacy looks like.”
“When you resist arrest, bad things are going to happen,” Clover said, discussing the officer’s reaction to the suspects. “I believe the police are in the right. I believe the police are doing their job and need to defend themselves.”
Meanwhile, with the interview of Olympia Officer Ryan Donald complete, the investigation of last week’s police shooting is drawing to a close.
But because evidence collected by investigators still needs to be examined by the Washington State Patrol crime laboratory, the findings of the investigation are still at least a month away, said Chief Deputy Brad Watkins of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office.
“We’ll certainly be given some kind of priority because of the nature of the case,” Watkins said. “But we’re still expecting it to take up to six weeks.”
The May 21 shooting of stepbrothers Chaplin, 21, and Thompson, 24, by Donald is being investigated by a task force of local law enforcement agencies. The two men, who are suspected of trying to steal beer from a local Safeway, were shot about 1:15 a.m. following a confrontation on Cooper Point Road. The men were unarmed, but they allegedly assaulted the officer with a skateboard.
The Sheriff’s Office is leading the investigation, and detectives from the State Patrol and the Lacey and Tumwater police departments are assisting.
By Tuesday afternoon, detectives had collected all of the physical evidence necessary to the case and interviewed almost all of the witnesses. Donald was interviewed Tuesday.
Watkins said he was unable to provide any information regarding the interview with Donald.
Detectives also interviewed Thompson last week while he was at Tacoma General Hospital. He is now recovering from his injuries at home.
Chaplin is still being treated at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, said Lt. Cliff Ziesemer. At the request of the family, Harborview staff aren’t releasing information about his condition. Investigators haven’t had a chance to interview him.
Watkins said that the family said that they had hired a lawyer, but investigators are unsure who the lawyer is.
“We certainly want to offer Bryson Chaplin a chance to tell investigators his side of the story,” Watkins said. “That would be ideal. But until that attorney gets in contact with us, or until we’re able to get in touch with the attorney, that can’t happen.”
While investigators wait on reports from the crime lab, the Sheriff’s Office may forward interview transcripts to the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office for review, Watkins said.
“Because of the temperature of the community with these kinds of events, we may give the Prosecutor’s Office everything with the exclusion of the lab reports,” Watkins said. “But any kind of charging decisions will wait until they have all the reports.”
The Sheriff’s Office will hold off on making any arrests in the case until after the Prosecutor Jon Tunheim has made any charging decisions, Watkins said.
Charges could be filed against Chaplin, Thompson or Donald — or any combination of the three.
The City Council devoted its entire meeting Tuesday to public comments from at least 33 community members. Residents filled the seats inside council chambers while dozens more watched the meeting from a monitor in the lobby at City Hall.
Many comments were passionate pleas for community safety as well as accountability and transparency in the Olympia Police Department.
Several commenters blasted the city for having other law enforcement investigate the police shooting instead of an independent review board, for example. Others said the outcome of the May 21 police encounter would have been different if the two suspects had been white.
Some commenters described the struggles of enduring racism while living as a minority in a predominantly white city like Olympia.
“We can do better,” said Nat Jackson, an African American resident of Olympia for 45 years, who also criticized Police Chief Ronnie Roberts for tainting the investigation by saying that race was not a factor in the shooting. “We are patiently awaiting the facts. It is in my view inappropriate for the chief or anyone else to say that it appears race had nothing to do with it.”
Jim Johnson, who lives near the shooting scene, said he heard two sets of multiple gunshots, but has not been interviewed by police as a witness. He said police need to interview more witnesses or risk undermining the credibility of the investigation.
“Nobody has even said how many shots were fired,” said Johnson, who also advocated for police body cameras. “This is not expensive. You just need to do it.”
Zoltan Grossman said Officer Donald needs to be investigated for reckless endangerment after a police spokesman confirmed in The Stranger that a bullet from the shooting had struck the window of a nearby house of a student at The Evergreen State College.
“We may one day find a bullet through our window because of our inaction,” he said. “We don’t just want a conversation. We want action.”
One commenter, C Davis, spoke in support of the police department and Officer Donald in their efforts to protect the public.
“Nobody has taken any time to consider what he’s gone through in this incident,” Davis said of the officer. “It’s important that the City Council know and the Olympia Police Department know that a lot of what they do is appreciated by the community.”
After Davis spoke, loud booing could be heard from the lobby.
After the public comments, council members thanked the audience for attending and sharing their views. They also expressed heartbreak over the incident as well as frustration over not having all the answers. Mayor Stephen Buxbaum said the next steps for the council will include a policy discussion based on community feedback.
“It’s important that we continue this dialogue and that we find ways to heal as a community,” said Councilman Jim Cooper, his voice quivering slightly with emotion. “Olympia is the place where everybody can live. We are all here to ensure that.”