Prosecutor Jon Tunheim announced Wednesday that Olympia Police Officer Ryan Donald will not face criminal charges for shooting two skateboarders after responding to a May 21 supermarket theft call.
“I believe Officer Donald was acting in good faith and had actual good faith fear that he was being assaulted and could face real injury,” Tunheim said of the shooting.
However, the two young men — Andre Thompson, 23, and Bryson Chaplin, 21 — will face charges for an alleged assault on Officer Donald. Donald told investigators that he shot the two men after one of the them tried to attack him with a skateboard.
Each suspect was charged Wednesday with two counts of second-degree assault, and Chaplin will face an additional fourth-degree assault charge for allegedly throwing beer at a supermarket clerk earlier in the evening.
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The second-degree assault charges are felonies and strike offenses. Fourth-degree assault is a misdemeanor.
Tunheim said he believed that in this case, the skateboard was “very much a deadly weapon.”
“I believe (Donald) was at risk of being seriously injured,” Tunheim said.
The Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office announced the charging decision at a Wednesday press conference at the Thurston County Emergency Management Center south of Tumwater. Tunheim said Thompson and Chaplin will be served a summons to appear in Thurston County Superior Court Sept. 22.
One of the main points Tunheim made was that neither Thompson nor Chaplin was shot in the back, as determined by medical reports.
“The evidence doesn’t support that,” Tunheim said. “... He was not shot in the back.”
After comparing Donald’s narrative of the event with physical evidence and police radio traffic, “I’m convinced that events unfolded substantially as he described,” Tunheim said of Donald.
Tunheim said both Thompson and Chaplin gave only short, incomplete statements about the events of May 21. He explained that they weren’t compelled by law to give any kind of statement, and that they weren’t penalized for exercising their right to remain silent.
“I have not considered the fact that they haven’t given a statement as evidence of their wrongdoing in any way,” Tunheim said.
Attorney Saxon Rodgers said Ryan Donald, whom he represents, was “elated” to hear the news that he won’t face criminal charges.
“He reacted as one might expect,” Rodgers said. “He’s really happy, and he’s looking forward to this all being over.”
But Rodgers said he and his client haven’t ruled out the possibility of Thompson and Chaplin filing a civil suit.
“If they do, they’ll lose,” Rodgers said. “Just look at the evidence.”
The Olympian unsuccessfully attempted to reach Thompson and Chaplin at their home Wednesday. Their attorney, David Beninger of Seattle, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Donald also is facing an internal review of his conduct by the Olympia Police Department. At a second Wednesday press conference at City Hall, Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts said the review would start immediately and would take about two weeks.
The review board will be made up of Deputy Chief Steve Nelson, Lt. Aaron Jelcick, deputy city attorney Darren Nienaber and Edward Prince, executive director for the state Commission on African American Affairs.
The board’s decision will be reviewed by Roberts, who will make the ultimate decision about whether Donald violated department policies. Roberts said that because of his role in the internal review, he couldn’t comment on Tunheim’s charging decisions.
“This has been a difficult few months for the community and the Olympia Police Department,” Roberts said. “... We recognize there are members of the public that feel vulnerable and distrust the police. We are committed to improving those relationships.”
As soon as Roberts finished his statement, members of the audience began yelling, “Fire Officer Donald!”
Olympia resident Caro Gonzales, one of the people protesting at the press conference, said she believes that the decision not to charge Donald is unjust.
“Today feels like a continued shirking of responsibility by every institution possible,” Gonzales said. “... And we know that race will always be a factor.”
Donald, Chaplin and Thompson have been under investigation since the May 21 shooting.
Donald had been searching for suspects in a theft at the west Olympia Safeway when he located the two men on the 1200 block of Cooper Point Road. Donald said he shot the two men after one of the them tried to attack him with a skateboard, according to the police investigation report.
The charging decision comes after weeks of deliberation by the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office and months of investigation by the Thurston County Critical Incident Task force — an investigation team composed of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, Lacey Police Department, Tumwater Police Department and the Washington State Patrol.
The Sheriff’s Office led the investigation and turned over the investigation report to the Prosecutor’s Office on Aug. 6, and Prosecutor Jon Tunheim announced that a charging decision would be made within six weeks. The decision took just under four weeks.
The investigation report, which included interview transcripts, was made public Aug. 26.