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Double standard by Shooting Review Board?

OPD Officer Ryan Donald disciplined previously for going in without backup

Candace Mercer

Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, WIP has examined Officer Ryan Donald’s complete Olympia Police Department [OPD] disciplinary records. WIP found Donald was involved in an earlier incident where he did not follow proper procedure in waiting for backup, placing himself in a situation where use of force was inevitable and a suspect was injured. Race may have played a role in this incident as well.

It does not seem as if Donald’s record was a consideration in the OPD’s Shooting Review Board’s decision to exonerate Donald in the Chaplin-Thompson shooting. There was no reference to it made in the comprehensive binder given to SRB members, nor in any of their handwritten notes.

There are obvious similarities to the Chaplin-Thompson case, so why was Donald disciplined in this lesser instance, but not in the shooting incident? If what he did was wrong previously, why was it acceptable when he repeated it, confronting the Chaplin-Thompson brothers without backup even though he was aware backup was on the way, including a K-9 officer?

Comments about Donald’s behavior made in the SRB final findings [see sidebar on page 14 for transcript] echo those made by his supervisor in a document [in the next section] that describes the supervisor’s concerns about Donald.

In the earlier incident he was given a warning and received counseling about departmental procedure. After shooting Bryson and André Chaplin-Thompson, Donald received neither. There was not even a written plan for his reintroduction to service and no documentation of his reintegration was available according to OPD’s Amy Iverson in response to a FOIA request filed by WIP.

Donald disciplined for going in without backup

On April 9, 2013, OPD received a call about a disturbance involving ten subjects at the Evergreen Villa Apartments on Fern St.  An OPD Memorandum, dated April 13, written by Sgt. Allen with the subject “Incident involving Officer Donald,” describes Donald’s actions:

“Officer Donald was the first on the scene and approached the entrance of the “A” building. He advised on the air that suspects were being uncooperative and he was trying to detain at least three persons. He eventually gets three suspects to sit on the ground, when a fourth suspect starts approaching him. The suspect starts verbally challenging Donald, and takes a bladed stance (with his fists clinched [sic]) against him. Donald makes the decision to go “hands on” with this subject, and out muscles him to the ground. Once the other units arrive, two of the suspects become disorderly and aggressive. Both of them had to be placed on the ground, causing injury to one of the suspects.

“I have two concerns regarding this incident:

  1. Officer Donald did not wait for back-up, and placed himself in a position where the use of force was inevitable.

2.  Once Officer Donald was in that position, he made the decision to go “hands on” with the aggressive subject, exposing     himself to attack from the other three suspects that were present.”

More critically, in the next section of the Memorandum, Sgt. Allen references Donald having a history of similar actions in the past and was counseled by Sgt. Allen on proper procedure [emphasis added]:

“Officer Donald arrived and approached the scene of the disturbance prior to the arrival of other units. I spoke with Donald about the obvious safety concerns with this. I advised him that the preferred tactic in this instance would be to stage the area and wait for additional units. I added that if he was close enough to see what was transpiring, he should give updates to dispatch but refrain from engaging multiple suspects alone.

“I am concerned that this is becoming a reoccurring theme for Officer Donald. I am aware of other incidents (disorderly in bars – extracting one suspect from a vehicle with other suspects still present in the car) where he acted alone in situations where common sense and sound police tactics call for more than one officer. In these prior instances, he was confronted by fellow Police Officers, but the behavior seemed to continue.

Again, I explained to Officer Donald that intentionally contacting multiple suspects alone should be avoided. However, I realize (although I don’t believe this is one of them) that situations may arise where he will find himself dealing with multiple, hostile subjects alone. I told him I was concerned about his decision to out muscle the aggressive suspect, while the other suspects were present.

“He explained that he believed the three suspects sitting on the ground, un-handcuffed, were under control. I disagreed with his assessment, and talked about the fact that one of the three tried advancing/helping his fellow suspect and had to be restrained by another Officer.

“We talked about the other use of force options when dealing with multiple, aggressive suspects, specifically the CED [Taser] and the baton.

“Officer Donald’s failure to wait for backup is contrary to contemporary police practices and current department training. Officer Donald received counseling on this. I will continue to monitor Officer Donald’s tactics, and make sure his future shift supervisors aware of my concerns.”

WIP filed a FOIA request in an attempt to get more information about the incidents Lt. Allen referenced in the Memorandum but met a dead end. Amy Iverson of the OPD wrote that she talked to Lt. Allen but “He cannot recall what case numbers he was referencing when he wrote the memorandum. Without dates, times and locations, it is impossible to locate the specific cases he was referring to.”

Another similarity between the Evergreen Villa incident and the Chaplin-Thompson one is that it involved people of color, one of whom was injured due to use of force. The two men were not charged with any other crime but were cited with obstructing justice for refusing to sit on the ground and for talking back to Officers Donald and Henry. The Incident Report written by Officer Henry describes what happened when he arrived at the scene:

“Officer Donald advised me that none of the males had been searched for weapons yet. I ordered the males to calm down and be quiet in order for us to process the scene and find out what happened. One, male later identified as [name withheld by WIP], yelled ‘Fuck you white boy.’ [The subject] leaned forward and attempted to get up, refusing orders to stay seated. There were three other subjects sitting on the ground un-secured and [the subject] drew my attention away, delaying the investigation into the disturbance.

“I walked over to [the subject] and grabbed his right arm in a wrist lock. I told [the subject] that he was under arrest for obstructing. [The subject] tried standing up and he started pulling away from me. Officer Donald had grabbed [the subject’s] left arm. I ordered [the subject] to lay on the ground and I pulled him forward, where he lay prone on the cement courtyard. I then kneeled on [the subject’s] shoulder area, pressing him into the ground. Officer Donald did the same.

“[The subject] had his face on the cement and he was twisting and resisting us, trying to get up. [The subject] said ‘I’m going to kick your ass.’ I placed [the subject] into custody for obstructing. While I was placing [the subject] into custody, a male sitting next to us, later identified as [name withheld by WIP] started to get up to interfere with me and Officer Donald. Officer Jordan placed [second suspect] into custody.

“[The first subject] continued to be verbally aggressive towards me and the other officers. As I sat [the subject] up, I noticed he had bloodied scrapes on the right side of his face. On the ground, there was a piece of gravel where [the subject’s] face was pressed into the cement. [The subject] had cut and scraped his face while he was struggling against us.”

Had the officers used verbal de-escalation tools, this incident could have turned out differently – the men wouldn’t have ended up with arrest records and fines. The two other men involved in the incident kept quiet and were released at the scene. The initial disturbance for which the police were called was classified as “unfounded” in Donald’s Incident Report.

Donald sloppy with procedure

Also in Donald’s disciplinary file were incidents where he was sloppy with procedure after he was hired in 2012. An OPD Report Return, dated June 4, 2012, lists eight problems with Donald’s report that ultimately meant that the case could not be forwarded to the prosecutor. In the document, Sgt. S. Costello remarks, “Overall this matter seems to have been handled lightly” and that he needed “to sit down and discuss this at length” with Donald.

  • On August 25, 2012, Donald completed his shift patrol duties but failed to remove and properly secure his patrol rifle. In a Memorandum, Donald writes, “There is no reasonable explanation or excuse for my actions. This issue has been brought to my attention and I have been made aware the impact such carelessness has my coworkers.”
  • In another Report Return written by Sgt. Costello, dated September 5, 2012, Donald did not handle evidence properly and was vague in his report, missing basic facts such as where an alleged assault occurred.
  • Donald mishandled evidence again eight days later on September 13, 2012, as reported by Sgt. Allen in an Operations Memorandum. “Officer Donald brought in a suspect on two OPD warrants. The subject had a large backpack with him that needed to be searched prior to being entered into the excess storage area,” wrote Sgt. Allen. A fellow officer, Denise Patrick, observed issues with how Donald handled contraband found in the backpack: a bottle containing Tramadol, as well as an empty prescription bottle with another person’s name on it. She brought it up with her superiors, who were concerned enough to review jail security footage of Donald rummaging through the pack. They determined that “the chain of custody was contaminated, and any potential narcotics charges were lost.”
  • Just two days later, on September 15, 2012, yet another one of Donald’s reports was returned. Sgt. Renschler wrote, “The report ends with a single sentence requesting the case be referred to the PA for charges against [name withheld by WIP] without a conclusionary [sic] statement as to why you believe there is probable cause. We don’t just take everyone’s statement and then send it to the PA to figure out. If you believe there is probable cause to charge someone, you need to more clearly articulate why you believe there is probable cause in the report, particularly with a confusing incident with conflicting statements.”
  • Donald given written warning

An OPD Personnel Corrective Action Form [PCAF], dated November 29, 2012, details a Written Warning placed on Donald’s record. It states two problems that constituted violations of OPD policy. The first, “On 11/28/12, Officer Ryan Donald arrested a person for a warrant. He failed to confirm the arrestee’s identification upon arrest. While attempting to book this person in to jail, Officer Donald discovered that he had arrested the wrong person.”

The second violation revolved around paperwork, but at a higher level than his previous errors. The PCAF reports, “Officer Donald did not complete his report for this arrest at the end of his shift and did not notify any supervisor of this matter until he returned to work for his assigned shift on the evening of 11/28/12.” This action was considered an “Unsatisfactory Performance.”

Donald commended

WIP also filed FOIA requests for any positive reports in Officer Donald’s record and was sent two. One is a letter dated July 2015 from a former addict, “This arrest led to a series of changes in my life. The biggest of those was my decision to beg for Drug Court and change this 23 year criminal and drug career I had going on. For that alone I will be forever grateful.” The woman invites Donald to her Drug Court graduation ceremony, saying, “it would mean a lot.”

In 2014, during an annual awards ceremony, Donald received a Commendation Award for his work breaking up a local bicycle theft operation. He was called “a solid Patrol Officer who distinguished himself as one of the most proactive Officers in the department.” Donald was also cited for his “response to a group of suspects who were repeatedly burglarizing Olympia High School.” ‘

All of the suspects were arrested and Donald assisted with the interviews that led to their confessions and evidence of previous crimes. The commendation ends, saying, “The Olympia Police Department appreciates Officer Donald’s continued enthusiasm and creative efforts to address crime.

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