In a courtroom filled with a gunshot victim’s fellow police officers, a judge sentenced an Olympia man to 18 years in prison Thursday for shooting a Thurston County SWAT officer in the arm during a 2011 drug raid.
Christopher Self, 40, had pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree assault and one count of second-degree assault for firing a single shot from his bedroom as SWAT officers raided his home in the 5000 block of 70th Avenue in Olympia on June 6, 2010.
Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon said sentencing Self to 18 years in prison — the high end of the standard sentencing range — was an easy decision. Dixon said Self’s apparent lack of remorse for his actions was part of why he did not consider imposing a sentence closer to the middle of the standard sentencing range.
“Police officers have an extremely difficult job, and more often than not, a thankless one,” Dixon said. “Our community depends on police officers to keep the rest of us safe.”
Self had accepted a plea deal after the start of his trial last week that allowed him to avoid a potential conviction for two counts of attempted first-degree murder. Self also pleaded guilty to narcotics-related charges stemming from selling marijuana and ecstasy pills to an undercover informant as part of the plea deal.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Scott Jackson told Dixon on Thursday that Self’s contention that he did not know that he was firing at police officers is difficult to believe. The SWAT officers at Self’s home that morning two years ago loudly announced themselves prior to entering, Jackson said.
“He decided to pick up the gun, he decided to walk around his bed and he decided to fire a shot at two police officers,” Jackson said. “… This was not an accident.”
The SWAT officer who was struck in the arm, Olympia Police Detective Bryan Houser, spoke before Dixon prior to Self’s sentencing. Houser said that until being shot, he never realized how “one second in time could turn my life upside down.” Houser’s voice swelled with emotion as he described how difficult it was to return to duty in Olympia after he recovered from the gunshot.
“I can honestly say that I struggled to put the uniform back on,” Houser said.
Houser added that he is lucky to be here today. The gunshot went “through and through” Houser’s upper left biceps, Jackson said.
“If I had not been wearing a small piece of bulletproof material on my arm, I would not be standing here today to give a statement,” Houser said.
Earlier this week, Houser was the first detective to respond to a violent assault and attempted rape of a woman on the Woodland Trail as she walked her dog. His and other detective’s work led directly to the arrest of a suspect that same day.
In 2011, narcotics detectives obtained a search warrant for Self’s home after he had sold more than $3,000 worth of drugs — marijuana and ecstasy pills — to an undercover informant, Jackson said. They decided to have the Thurston County SWAT team assist because of Self’s military background, because they knew Self had firearms and pit bulls in the home and because he had a security system in place, Jackson added.
Self’s attorney, Kevin Johnson, asked for a sentence at the low end of the standard range.
Johnson claimed that Self thought an intruder was at his door, not police. He added that Self’s home had been burglarized on a prior occasion.
“Is a police officer’s life worth more than the life of a citizen trying to protect his home?” asked Johnson. Johnson asked Dixon to impose a 14-year sentence.
Houser said he believes Self knew who was at his door.
Self also gave a statement Thursday, explaining that he made “one bad decision after another,” in choosing to use and sell drugs to friends. He said he did not hear the SWAT team’s “knock and announce” identifying themselves as police officers prior to entering. He also apologized to the officers.
“I never intended to injure anyone, much less kill (the) officers,” Self said.
Dixon said he heard “a remarkable lack of remorse” from Self, and interpreted Self’s apology as being sorry for his own losses, not for his victim’s.
Prior to Self’s 2011 arrest, he had no prior criminal record, except for one misdemeanor offense, Dixon said.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445