An Olympia police officer shot two unarmed black men suspected of shoplifting beer early Thursday morning, setting off a number of demonstrations against excessive use of force.
The two men, 24 and 21-year-old stepbrothers identified as Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin, were taken to the hospital in critical condition, police said. By Thursday afternoon, Thompson was upgraded to serious condition, and authorities said both were expected to survive.
Officer Ryan Donald responded to calls from a store at around 1 a.m. on Thursday reporting two men who attempted to steal beer and then threw items at store employees before fleeing.
Donald made contact with the suspects at 1:14 a.m. and reported shooting them at 1:16 a.m., Police Chief Ronnie Roberts said at a news briefing on Thursday.
Donald shot one of the suspects during a confrontation at the back of the patrol vehicle. The two suspects fled into the woods where Donald shot the second suspect multiple times in the torso during a second confrontation. He rendered aid and called for medics.
Roberts did not provide details on the nature of both confrontations but said that Donald "felt threatened and discharged his firearm."
According to Roberts, Donald said over the radio that he was assaulted by one of the suspects with a skateboard.
Both suspects were unarmed when they were shot, Roberts confirmed. He said he did not believe the shooting was racially motivated.
Donald, who has been an officer for three years, was put on administrative leave pending an investigation. The Thurston County Critical Incident Team, comprised of detectives from five local agencies, is investigating the shooting.
Roberts said there would also be an internal investigation.
In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Chief Brad Watkins of the Thurston County Sheriff's Office said Olympia police would not have an active role in the criminal investigation of the shooting. So far, 16 investigators from other local agencies have spoken to witnesses as well as Thompson. An interview with the officer is scheduled for Tuesday.
Waiting to speak 48 to 72 hours with the officer is normal procedure, Watkins added. It allows adrenaline to wear off so the official statement is more complete.
The bulk of the investigation is expected to be done within a week, he added, then investigators will wait for return of tests and other crime scene evidence. The entire investigation could be complete in 3 to 6 weeks, and the package will then go to county prosecutors.
"Our job is to do a complete and thorough investigation," Watkins said.
Thurston County prosecuting attorney Jon Tunheim said his office will then determine if the officer's actions are criminal under state law — a standard he admitted is high. Under Washington law, an officer may use deadly force in the line of duty if it's reasonable, and if he or she is acting in "good faith and without malice."
He added though there was no video of the shooting, all the different elements of the investigation would be weighed together for the prosecutors' office to make an informed decision.
"An officer's statement is only one piece of the evidence that will be gathered," he added.
In response to a reporter's question, Roberts expanded on his previous remarks that he did not believe race was a factor in the shooting.
"That will be determined by this investigation," he said. "But I have nothing that leads me to believe this is a factor."