Posted September 21, 2015 by Cooper Point Journal in News

Thurston County Prosecutor Not Charging Police Officer For Shooting Two Men In May

The Decision Garnered Widespread Public Backlash

By Felix Chrome
Protests erupted once again after Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim announced that Officer Ryan Donald would not be prosecuted for the shooting of two unarmed black men, bothers Bryson Chaplin and Andre Thompson. He also announced that Chaplin and Thompson would face assault charges.

On May 21st Olympians awoke to news that Olympia Police Officer Donald had shot Chaplin, 21, and Thompson, 24, around 1 a.m. after responding to a 911 call about attempted shoplifting from a nearby Safeway.The shooting sparked outrage and large protests that garnered national media attention.

After months of investigation by the Thurston County Critical Incident Team, a group headed by the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office and comprised of detectives from various local police agencies, an evidence report was Submitted to the Prosecutor’s Office. While the prosecutor made a final decision, reading the evidence released to the public three days later it seemed like an already forgone conclusion. In forensic reports the Critical Incident Team listed Officer Donald as the “victim” and Thompson and Chaplin as “suspects”, even when analyzing evidence that was a result of their gunshot wounds.

At 2pm September 2nd Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim held a press conference saying that “but for the hostile acts of Mr. Chaplin and Mr. Thompson, these shootings would not have occurred.” This alleged hostility referred to Officer Donald’s report that the brothers attempted to assault him. In dispatch calls of the incident Donald states that the brothers were unarmed but “acting aggressive.” However, in a later description of events he said that Chaplin attempted to assault him with his skateboard. In a report released by Prosecutor Tunheim he states, “In my view, the way the skateboard was described as being used meets the definition of deadly weapon under Washington law.”

According to Officer Donald’s statement, after confronting the brothers Thompson grabbed Donald’s arm and Chaplin raised his skateboard. Donald began firing shots and the brothers then ran away. Donald shot Chaplin after he allegedly failed to comply with the Officer’s commands to come out with of the bushes alongside Cooper Point Road with his hands up. Thompson knelt by his brother and was then shot by Donald, who reported he was afraid Thompson would attempt to take his gun.

The brothers are now both facing second degree assault charges for allegedly assaulting Officer Donald. Bryson Chaplin is facing an additional assault charge for allegedly throwing a case of beer at a safeway employee before the police arrived, although in video from the store it only appears to graze the employee’s hand. They were issued a summons to appear in court on September 22nd.

Protesters are demanding that these charges be dropped, as well as reparations be made to Thompson, Chaplin, and their family, covering the cost of their hospital bills and any ongoing care they may need. Bryson Chaplin is still paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the shooting, and is working to regain movement in his legs.

After Tunhiem’s press conference Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts made a brief statement, not yet announcing what, if any, administrative action would be taken again Officer Donald, who has been on leave since the shooting.

“Now that the Prosecutor’s work is complete, the Olympia Police Department will begin an internal review of this incident to determine whether the actions of Officer Donald violated any department policies and procedures,” said Roberts. He said the review should take about two weeks.

Chief Roberts stated that he could not comment on the Prosecutor’s decision but went on to say “Issues of race, bias, power and privilege are challenging communities across the nation. We recognize there are members of the public that feel vulnerable and distrust the police. We are committed to improving these relationships.” A statement that seems to run somewhat counter to Prosecutor Jon Tunheim’s earlier assertion that “There’s no finding on my part that race was a factor in this.”

At the end of Ronnie Roberts statement some local activists began chanting ‘Fire Officer Donald,’ a sentiment that seemed to be echoed by those participating in protests.

Responses to the decision not to prosecute Ryan Donald and the shooting overall, have taken a variety of forms and members of the community have had a wide spectrum of reactions. One of the largest events since this decision took place the day after the announcement, drawing hundreds to the corner of State Avenue and Cherry Street.

According to signs and fliers made by organizers the action was specifically to demand that City and County authorities fire Officer Donald; grant reparations to Thompson and Chaplin covering the complete cost of their medical bills and ongoing care; and drop all charges against the brothers.

Some organizers from Full Circle United, self described as “a group of Black, Indigenous and People of Color artists, organizers, teachers, learners and healers living and working in Oly” spoke, and invited any black people from the community to speak on their experiences of racism and police violence.

Later that night a small group of protesters took to the streets marching and tagging city property with with “No Cops, No Charges, Justice for Andre and Bryson” and “ACAB,” a popular acronym in many anarchist communities that stands for ‘All Cops Are Bastards’.

In the following days there continued to be some peaceful marches and rallies organized by a variety of groups. Including March for the Mothers, where the pastor from Andre and Bryson’s family’s church spoke, and participants brought flowers to mourn all victims of police violence and honor their families.

There also continued to be smaller demonstrations by anarchists in the following days. The largest of these events was organized partially in response to the threat of neo-nazis rallying in Olympia, as they did in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests that took place directly after the shooting.

An anti-fascist march was called for Saturday September 5th, the same night an anti-police march was already scheduled. A known local neo-nazi had posted on popular white supremacist website Stormfront, but created some confusion regarding the date saying, “ON SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 6TH, WE WILL BE RALLYING FORCES.” Regardless, in response to this message a group of primarily antifascists and anarchists gathered in protest.

The group, numbering between 50 and 100 by the time it was dark, took the street on fourth avenue, marching through downtown chanting “Nazis Out of Oly, Fuck The Police” and other slogans with both anti-police and anti-fascist sentiments.

As they continued to march through downtown it eventually became apparent that if nazis were in Olympia, they were not on the streets of downtown. A fight with a biker displaying confederate flags broke out, in which he was pepper sprayed and a confederate flag was taken from him then burned in the street, but there were no other confrontations.

After over an hour of marching, the group stopped by city hall which also houses the police headquarters, and some smashed windows with baseball bats and threw glass jars of red paint and other objects at the building. The crowd dispersed after riot cops began shooting pepper pellets at demonstrators.

The Olympia Police Department released a statement referring to anarchists as a “local hate group” and saying they support “groups who exercise their First Amendment rights in a peaceful manner” but “this protest was not such a gathering and resulted in criminal activity with injuries to two victims and later, extensive damage to City Hall.” They did not respond the Cooper Point Journal’s request for comment.

These are only some of the political actions that have happened since the prosecutor’s decision. Others including ongoing efforts to occupy the prosecutor’s office demanding charges against Thompson and Chaplin be dropped, that have resulted in arrests by Olympia police.

Actions involving a wide diversity of tactics are expected to continue at least until the brother’s court date on September 22nd.