Westside police shooting victims
On May 21, 2015, Bryson (21) and André Chaplin-Thompson (23) were shot by an Olympia police officer after a failed attempt to steal beer from a Safeway grocery store on the Westside of Olympia, Washington. The young Black men are brothers, were unarmed, and while the officer shot at body mass, striking several times (as police are trained to do, in the science of force and Use of Force), Bryson and André thankfully survived the shooting. One of the bullets fired that hit Bryson is still lodged in his spinal column, and has caused paralysis from the waist down. The white police officer, 35-year-old Ryan Donald, was not injured, but did report by radio that he had been “assaulted with a skateboard.” The shooter, Officer Donald, like every single Washington State law enforcement officer (ever) that has used excessive force, was not indicted and was cleared of any wrongdoing. Bryson and André, however, are being accused of trumped-up and very serious charges of assault. Rather than dropping the charges, which was the rallying plea of the Olympia activist community supporting this family, the county prosecutor brought criminal charges against the two young men.
On January 21, 2016 at 10:30am, the Thurston County Courthouse is buzzing with activity. Inside a heavily-monitored, large crowded courtroom, a steady stream of people accused of crimes (and victims of The System), await the next name to be called, taking turns to meet their fate or find out the date of their next appearance. Some people are no-shows. The back of the courtroom is lined with tables as makeshift desks over which check-ins are happening. There is a nearly distracting hum of voices as folks are last-minute prepping to stand before the judge, with mostly white men in suits talking with clients. At the helm of the proceedings is Thurston County “Superior” Court Judge Carol Murphy, a woman, and the most powerful white person in the room, seated higher than everyone else, displaying her power very clearly. Most of the rotating lawyers on both sides are white, while the “defendants” are Black, Brown, Poor and People with Disabilities. On the left wall above the empty jury seats are huge photos of four (presumably very important) white judges who are men. Above the “superior” court judge’s high perch is an embossed gold portrait of George Washington himself, the emblem of the state of Washington, a glaring symbol of colonization.
Front and center of the courtroom, waiting to be called before the judge, are the tight-knit Chaplin-Thompson family. In the aisle in his wheelchair is Bryson, holding a Chicago Bulls hat on his lap. To his right is his sister Jasmine, and next to Jasmine is André, and to his right is their mom, Crystal Chaplin. You can feel the love between this family, they are a unit. There are members of community in support of André and Bryson sprinkled throughout the courtroom. André and Bryson wait patiently for two hours, then find out from one of their lawyers, George Trejo, that they can actually leave without being seen by the judge. Hurry up and wait, and now go home. Papers have been signed and the next court appearance is in April 2016, and failures to appear will lead to warrants.
In the United States there is a nationwide crisis of profiling, police terror and violence against Black people. It is a low estimate that somewhere in the U.S. every 28 hours a Black Loved One is killed by law enforcement, and that does not consider those who “disappear” or who die in custody. In the state of Washington the Black population is 3.6 percent and in Olympia it is 2 percent (2010 Census report). The percentage of Black folks incarcerated statewide in Washington is 18.1 percent (Dec 2015 Department of Corrections). Not unlike other cities, such as San Francisco, where the Black population is 3 percent and more than half the jail’s population is Black, anti-Black racism is alive and well in Olympia, Washington and plays out loudly in the actions of police (Ryan Donald) and the white people who call them (employees of Safeway).
It’s 8 am on July 7, 2016 and Bryson bounces down three steps to the sidewalk in his wheelchair (which has a flat tire); he’s gotten extremely good at navigating using his chair. “I didn’t get much sleep,” he says. André joins him; “me neither,” he says. They both look very tired, and for good reason, as they are about to make yet another early morning, mandatory pre-trial court appearance and they have been mourning the loss of many Black extended-community members recently killed by police. “My mom should be right out,” André tells his friend who has come to help with a ride. Crystal’s car broke down the night before. Bryson lifts himself into the car while André breaks down the wheelchair and finds room for it in the back of the car.
“Did you hear about the shooting, the one in the car?” Bryson asks his friend. “Philando Castile!” they exclaim. The conversation is solemn as the three talk about the violent lynchings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile—the videos of their executions by police had just been all over social media.
Rest in power Philando Castile.
Rest in power Alton Sterling.
Crystal emerges from the house: “Alright let’s go,” she says.
Today the courtroom is very empty; on the left are four People of Color, attorney (and Woman) Sunny Ko, then André. Next to him is George Trejo, then Bryson. On the right side of the courtroom are the two white prosecutors, Scott Jackson and Wayne Graham. There’s a different judge presiding, white Judge Tabor, who is flanked by a white stenographer and white bailiff. Judge Tabor is very close to retiring, he announces this from his throne.
“This is a status conference,” Tabor announces. He talks about a “3.5 hearing” that happened recently where yet another Judge—Judge Dixon—made a ruling of some sort in this case. What he says doesn’t make a lot of sense to an outsider, and he’s very jokey about it. It does seem strange that this is the third judge involved presiding over the fate of two men, but this guy makes it clear he’s the judge presiding now, and will be seeing this trial through.
“Mr. Rogers, who is not a party to this case, and represents Donald, [the lawyer of Ryan Donald] is not present,” the Judge points out. It isn’t mentioned but Ryan Donald is also not present.
“August 15th is not gonna work,” Judge Tabor says. The prosecutors are concurring (fancy lawyer talk) that maybe August 15th is “too soon.” This is the date André and Bryson’s family and their community thought that the criminal trial was finally set to start. It becomes clear that this court appearance is about scheduling, not dropping charges as what seems an obvious solution. Judge Tabor then addresses the defense, and infers that it is taking the defense a long time; he tells Trejo “this date was set long ago.”
Bryson’s lawyer Trejo tells the judge that this hold-up has everything to do with a defiant and inaccessible officer Ryan Donald. Interviews so far with Donald were unsuccessful. Trejo finds it problematic that when interviewed, Officer Ryan Donald had this “inability to recall disciplinary action” that has happened to him as a police officer.
Donald refused to respond to any questions about racism, having referred to André and Bryson as “thugs.”
Also, on March 1, 2016, a date set for Officer Ryan Donald to be questioned by Ko and Trejo, Donald was a no-show. At that time Donald refused to attend. He was on paid “administrative leave,” as he was one of five Olympia Police Department officers present during the in-custody death of Loved One Jeffrey McGaugh on February 29, 2016.
Rest in power Jeffrey McGaugh.
If André or Bryson hadn’t shown up for a court date, they would be in jail.
Trejo also talked about a “motion to sever counts” under the 8.3 motion, because “the state provided Donald with all the discovery on the case.” This sounds like Donald is being given all kinds of background information and history about André and Bryson, yet Donald won’t even answer direct questions, questions being asked by two People of Color, the defense lawyers Ko and Trejo. It is likely that Donald the kkkop is still writing his narrative of what happened.
Trejo agrees that August 15 is too soon. The reason for this is the lack of officer Donald’s version of what happened the night he shot-to-kill André and Bryson. When Donald finally complies with that requirement, Ko (Andre’s lawyer) explains that expert witnesses will then need time to review his assessment. Ko pushes for Donald’s narrative, and some time to review it before trial. There’s a deadline for the defense team to interview Donald and it is July 29.
Judge Tabor then said something that sounded a lot like someone who thought fairness and justness and truth are irrelevant. From his seat above everyone else, to a mostly empty courtroom, Judge Tabor said “I know this case has high visibility, and people have strong feelings. They have a right to their feelings and opinions about what’s right and wrong. But that doesn’t matter here,” he said. “Legal issues need to be assessed here.”
Then the Judge told the court his scheduling conflicts the coming months, and he excused himself from the courtroom so the prosecutors and the defenders could come to a decision about scheduling.
The scheduling conversation comes off like a strange insider’s theatric performance. It takes place in a bubble of laughter and talk of vacations and other pending cases (so much going on) and talk of more vacations… Even the stenographer gets in on the scheduling back and forth, describing this judge’s jury selection process to be predictable (and hilarious apparently). She described Tabor’s jury selection process as “half hour, half hour, half hour, 20 minutes, 20 minutes, half hour, hopefully done by noon.” And all the lawyers with the stenographer and the bailiff laugh together, because that’s so funny. “Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha,” they laugh, like no one else is in the room.
All the while André and Bryson sit there. They are not laughing. They are not in on the joke. They face hard time in prison for failing to steal beer (no beer actually left the store) and for getting almost killed by a racist police officer. Crystal and a few friends, the only other people in the courtroom, also just sit there. They exchange looks, also not laughing. One of them is a child. Even he knows this process is unjust, this Black family’s fate in the hands of these people in this system.
The defense and prosecution, never ever involving André nor Bryson in the conversation, come to the conclusion that October 3 is the date the trial will start. It will begin with jury selection. The Judge returns. It is agreed the trial will likely run 3-4 weeks. After all, these folks are the ones with the power, they know how it works, they are experienced and knowledgeable, they make the decisions. The judge says someone must coordinate with Mr. Rogers (Officer Donald’s lawyer, who is not “party to this court”) to confirm. The judge and Trejo also decide that July 20 at 8:30am is when Bryson must appear one more time, about those motions Trejo had filed.
The community is requested to please attend the estimated 3-4 week criminal trial for André and Bryson that begins October 3, 2016.
[Please read a related article, A Mother’s Cry for Justice by Crystal Chaplin online in the BayView National Black Press at sfbayview.com.]
Lisa Ganser is a white, Disabled, genderqueer artist living in Olympia, WA, on colonized Squaxin land. They are a copwatcher, a sidewalk chalker, and the daughter of a momma named Sam.
This article was originally published in POOR Magazine, based in Oakland, California. The organization is a poor people led/indigenous people led, non-profit, grassroots, arts organization dedicated to providing revolutionary media access, arts, education and solutions from youth, adults and elders in poverty across Pachamama (Mother Earth).
Editorial note: According to nomy lamm, who attended a packed pre-trial hearing Wednesday, July 20, the judge seemed “annoyed with both lawyers as he used the word ‘puffery.’ ” Officer Donald had not yet given an official statement and Mr. Rogers, Donald’s lawyer, said a statement would not be given unless one was ordered. Nomy described a back and forth “as to whether it would be an ‘interview’ with Bryson’s lawyer, Trejo, or if it would be a formal deposition, which would be ‘under oath.’ It was a little strange that this would be a sticking point.” The judge put an end to it by ordering a deposition of up to five hours. A “not so cool part” was that they would not be allowed to ask questions “about whether or not Officer Donald was racist, because racism is ‘subjective.’ ”
Also reported was a discussion of whether or not Mr. Trejo needed to issue a formal apology though nomy was not sure for what. “I heard Trejo say that he couldn’t find any precedent of a lawyer ever having to issue an apology and the judge said no, he didn’t need to do that. In addition, Trejo kept saying at this point, with no statement from Donald as to what injuries he sustained, he is not the victim in the case, he is merely a ‘complaining witness.’ ” nomy thought that was “kind of awesome.”
Jury selection will be held September 28 at 9 am and is open to the public. The trial is scheduled to begin October 3.