By Chloe Marina Manchester
The trial for brothers Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin, two young black men who were both shot by white Olympia police officer, Ryan Donald, in May 2015, has been delayed again, with no new date set and no judge assigned.
Thompson and Chaplin were shot by Officer Donald after being suspected of attempting to shoplift beer from a Safeway on the westside of Olympia. Both were unarmed at the time of the shooting but Officer Donald claims that he was assaulted and feared for his life. The brothers dispute this allegation and Donald was not severely injured in the incident. Both Thompson and Chaplin survived the shooting but Chaplin was left partially paralyzed.
Thompson and Chaplin now face assault charges from an alleged attack on Donald, in which he claims they threatened him with a skateboard. At the time Prosecutor Jon Tunheim stated, “In my view, the way the skateboard was described as being used meets the definition of deadly weapon under Washington law.” They both face a second degree assault charge and Chaplin faces and additional third degree for allegedly throwing beer at the Safeway employee who confronted them about allegedly shoplifting. Chaplin faces three counts of third degree theft and Thompson faces one related count of third degree theft.
The officer who shot Thompson and Chaplin was put on administrative leave, but later returned to work in his full capacity. In February of 2016, Donald was one of five officers involved in the detainment of a man who died in police custody.
Following the shooting, several protests and demonstrations occurred during summer and fall 2015. In May 2015 Olympia Chief of Police Ronnie Roberts had said that there was no indication race was a factor. One year later, in May 2016, he told The Olympian he regretted that statement saying, “For members of the black community, race is always an issue. It doesn’t necessarily matter what we intend. We’ve all been impacted by media, by language, by culture and by our upbringing.” The shooting prompted an internal review. The board, composed of Deputy Chief Steve Nelson, Lt. Aaron Jelcick, Officer Jason Winner, Deputy City Attorney Darren Nienaber and Edward Prince, executive director of the state Commission on African American Affairs, cleared Donald of any wrongdoing.
Two Thurston County Superior Court judges have removed themselves from the case because of rules governing judges. One of the judges, James Dixon, recused himself after inadvertently hearing information about the case from a third party, while the other judge, John Skinder, removed himself because he had previously worked for the Thurston County Prosecutor’s office.
On February 22 the Olympian reported that George Trejo, a who represents Chaplin, filed an affidavit asking that Judge Carol Murphy, who had previously been scheduled to preside over one of Thompson and Chaplin’s court dates in January of 2016, be removed as the judge for the case. Trejo requested that Murphy not hear the case on the grounds that he has reason to believe the Chaplin wouldn’t receive a fair or impartial trial from Murphy.
The case nearly went to trial in November 2017 with now retired Judge Gary Tabor. Jury selection began November 7, but Trejo was hospitalized a short time late because due to a toe infection. When the attorneys met following that, they asked for a week delay. Tabor opted, due to the holidays approaching, to move the trail to March 6. Tabor retired at the end of 2016. A new judge is expected to be appointed March 1, when both parties will meet for another hearing.