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More questions than answers

Olympia shooting: Andre Thompson’s sister sees officer shoot her brother

In a cruel twist of fate, Andre Thompson’s sister witnessed her brother getting shot by Officer Ryan Donald of the Olympia Police Department. Her account differs significantly from statements given by Officer Donald. Other witness statements raise further questions in the shooting of Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin on May 21 of this year.

Works in Progress obtained copies of over 500 pages of documents that the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office made public on August 26th. They include the Investigator’s Report prepared by the Thurston County Sheriff’s Department, written and oral statements given by Officer Donald, statements from other law enforcement and civilian witnesses, crime lab reports, screen saves from social media, as well as detailed photographs of key evidence and computer illustrations of the crime scene.

Officer Donald says he feared for his life

An eighteen page statement was given by Officer Ryan Donald on May 26,th five days after the shooting, at the Law Office of Saxon Rodgers in Olympia. Rodgers has been retained by the Olympia Police Guild to represent Donald. The interview was conducted by Detectives Claridge and Kolb of the Tumwater Police Department. It is accompanied by a ten page written statement dated May 26 and signed by Donald.

Officer Donald first encounters the suspects on the 1200 block of Cooper Point Rd. He does not immediately identify himself but requests the men to “have a seat in in front of my patrol car,” which had a spotlight aimed perpendicular with the road, instead of facing the suspects and did not have any other lights flashing. The engine was left running.

[Ellipsis are used for editing but also occur as a frequent part of the original text. All indented material is sic. Statements have been condensed in parts for space but not alter meaning.]

Q: What was their response when you told then to sit down in front of your…patrol car?

A: One subject…immediately raised his skateboard over his head, kinda to the side. He was gripping it with both hands and he ran toward the front of my patrol car. I believed he was going to hit the car with the skateboard…So I drew my firearm. I kept it down at my side. I did not present it…I was in my driver’s side door…for a little bit of protection…And I said ‘hey guys, Olympia Police officer. You guys need to stop right there’…he lowered the board…But they…[were] starting to walk a whole lot faster.

Officer Donald says he then rounded the back of the police car and approached both suspects near the rear of it. He reports putting himself in a “field interview stance,” identifying himself again.

A: [Thompson] grabbed a hold of my uniform shirt by the right sleeve…and immediately pulled me down…both subjects were taller and I believe outweighed me as well…So he’s…got my right arm, and he’s holding onto it. And it’s…pinned…there’s nothing I can do with [it]…and I’m being pulled off balance. [Chaplin], who’s standing just to the left of the subject grabbing me, he comes around…And I see he’s got the skateboard up over his head. He’s gripping it with both hands, probably about midway on…the wooden deck of the skateboard…again my right arm’s pinned…I’m very limited on what I can grab…I drew my firearm…on my left hip. And I basically put it…up under my right elbow…pointed at the subject with the skateboard…And I fired unknown number of rounds…[until] my actions were enough to stop him from swinging the board and contacting me…[Thompson] let go…both subjects turned and began running northbound on Cooper Point.

Questions

  • If subjects were large, outnumbered Donald, and were suspected of assault, why didn’t he wait for backup? Was this situation dangerous enough to merit immediate engagement?
  • Why did Bryson and Thompson act so aggressively when it would have been in their best interest to just run or skate away?
  • Is it proper procedure to fire a weapon from under the arm in that manner? In addition to the Smith & Wesson .45 caliber firearm, Donald was equipped with a taser and pepper spray. Why didn’t he use any of his other equipment when attempting to subdue the men?
  • If Donald fired upward toward Chaplin’s torso, why were bullet deflections found in the middle of Cooper Point Rd.? Was he in control on his weapon?
  • Why does Donald not commit to a number for any of the three discharges of his weapon? Multiple witnesses agree that there were three sets of shots but disagreed on their distribution. A crime lab report dated July 7th says that three cartridge cases were found near the car and seven were found in the road at the northern perimeter of the scene.
  • Why wasn’t the men’s DNA found on Donald’s shirt? A Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory Report signed by Sarah Webber, Forensic Scientist, states that “The DNA typing profile obtained from the right shoulder of the shirt is a mixture consistent with originating from two individuals. Ryan Donald is included as a possible contributor to the mixture. Bryson Chaplin and Andre Thompson are both excluded from the mixture.” A second sample of the shirt taken from the right sleeve was “a complex mixture consistent with originating from at least five individuals to which no meaningful comparisons can be made.”

Donald continues describing how the suspects headed north on Cooper Point, past a house on the left. He says they were stumbling and knocked over a curbside recycling bin. He assumes that Chaplin had been shot in the scuffle. Donald stays with his car and watches them go into the wooded area on the corner of 14th and Cooper Point. He radios dispatch and lets them know shots were fired and the suspects are in the woods. He holsters his weapon and begins pursuit.

Why does Donald give pursuit? Knowing that officers are in the area and on the way, including a K9 officer? For his own safety, why didn’t he take a defensive position behind his car? The suspects had limited range, especially if one was wounded. Few residents were in danger from the suspects.

Donald “I vaguely remember looking in his eyes…”

Donald runs to the southeast corner of the wooded area to the place where he lost sight of the men. He states his intentions were to “absolutely” wait for other units. He stresses this, using that exact word several times. Donald describes what happens next:

A: I see [Chaplin]…roughly about twelve feet, um, in front of me…in the bushes…He was crouched down. I remember seeing his skateboard, I believe, in his right hand…I radioed, let them know that…I’ve got one of them here. And I immediately drew my firearm and backed up into the roadway. He was…a lot closer to comfort than I’d like…As I am backing up, it appears that he is making his way toward me now. He’s not low crawling, he’s not standing up…he’s moving forward toward me, still crouched down. I don’t know if he’s on his knees…I start giving him commands. Let me see your hands, lay on the ground…And he’s not complying…at the same time…I see [Thompson] out of the corner of my eye…kinda between me and my patrol car…it looks like [Thompson] hid behind the fence line and I ran past him…[Thompson’s] coming toward me in the roadway, running. At the same time, [Chaplin] stands up, starts coming toward me as fast as he can, skateboard up over his head…like he’s going to assault me. I gave him several commands. Stop, get on the ground, I’m gonna shoot. Several times…he’s refusing my commands, so I fire an unknown number of rounds, until he stops coming toward me. The skateboard drops, he stumbles back a few feet…and falls…[Thompson] runs over to his friend…he’s checking on, I believe he touches him…I’m giving [Thompson] commands, get on the ground, get on the ground, let me see your hands. And he’s, he’s not listening. He’s talking to his buddy for a second. And he becomes…really angry, starts yelling and screaming, pointing his finger at me…

Q: Do you remember what he was saying?

A: I don’t. Honestly. It was something referencing me shooting his friend. But, I don’t recall. There were a lot of curse words in there, there’s a lot of anger, a lot of aggression…[Thompson’s] coming back at me, walking really fast. He’s not running. But, he’s walking like he’s got a purpose…I’ve got my firearm close to me. It’s no longer out, arms extended. It’s up into me. I’ve got both hands on it…And I start backing up…he was walking at me faster than I could walk backwards…I was yelling stop, get on the ground. Over and over and over. I’m gonna shoot, get on the ground. He was, he was really close to me. And I vaguely remember looking in his eyes. And he was watching my handgun. My handgun was down probably…over my heart, left side of my chest. I had it down. And he was, he was target glancing, he was…watching my firearm…He takes one big step with his right foot, which I believe was the, the final step before he…could actually lift up his hands and reach me. Um, I let him get probably too close…I turned and I wasn’t able to fully extend out my arms with the firearm. He was, he was close enough that I felt if I extended out my arms with my firearm in the shooting position, he could’ve grabbed my gun. And then it would’ve been a fight over the gun. So I was able to extend my arms partially and I fired. Unknown number of rounds. And…he was hit. And I don’t…think he went down immediately. He, it may have taken a second or two. And, uh, then he, he fell to the ground…

Much of the rest of Donald’s statement has to do with the amount of anger that Donald alleged Chaplin and Thompson had exhibited toward him and how alone he felt. He emphasizes their aggression and his resulting fear. Donald makes clear that he felt his life was in “eminent [sic] danger”:

“So throughout this contact, from where I was, I could see several miles to the south and I could see probably one or two miles to the north on Cooper Point…because of the time of day, it was dark, I would’ve seen vehicles coming and going. And during this contact several times, I knew…subconsciously people were coming to help me. But, I did not see any vehicles…So I, I literally felt like people were very, very far away from me. And I was out there on my own, by myself, with these two subjects…I didn’t see Officer Evers, anybody else arrive on the scene. I just knew that I was there and there was no cars coming or in the area…”

In his written report he also directly states: “Several times through the incident and after the first assault near my patrol car, I looked both north and south for incoming patrol units, but I did not observe any approaching or passing vehicles.”

Jasmine Thompson saw it differently

Incredibly, Andre Thompson’s sister, Jasmine, watched her brother get shot without recognizing him. Jasmine was a passenger in a car driven by her boyfriend, Antonio Harry. They were returning home, heading northbound on Cooper Point from Capital Medical Center, where she had been treated for a concussion she had received at work that day.

From her statement, given the morning after the shooting to Detective Al Stanford of the Lacey Police Department, it appears that she arrived at the scene just as the second set of shots were fired, the ones aimed at Chaplin. Both her and Harry report seeing only the officer and a man in a white shirt [Thompson], presumably Chaplin was on the ground and not visible.

This is Jasmine Thompson’s account of what she saw as their car passed Donald and her brother:

“[I heard] three shots fired that…made me look…and I see one cop with his gun drawn and a flashlight and I see the boy further down which I didn’t know it was my brother at the time but I see the boy further down just standing there and I was like, whoever that is…I hope…they don’t continue to shoot them…maybe just tase him now…the cop is walking ’cause we got to drive by slow so the cop was walking the whole time we were driving by slow…and that’s when I see the cop shoot my brother three time…I see my, the boy drop to the ground…[he] didn’t have nothing in his hands…like why are they shooting at that guy…”

Jasmine Thompson says this was happening in the “middle of the street” and that Donald was 20 feet from Andre Thompson when she first heard shots fired. She is clear that Donald was walking torward the man, not backing away as he has claimed in his statement. Donald says he was afraid to extend his arms with his weapon due to the fast and aggressive approach by Thompson. Miss Thompson is sure that he has his weapon away from his body. She did not hear Donald give any verbal commands nor did she hear her brother say anything.

Thompson also states that it is Donald who was being aggressive toward the man and she wondered what the man had done to make the officer so upset. When questioned further, she says:

A: I was already watching the cop walk that way so by the time he got close enough he just shot ’em. Like he was…not…able to [shoot] him from far away once he got close enough…he shot ’em.

Q: Do you remember what your brother was doing when he was…

A: He was standing.

Q: When the officer was closer?

A: He was just standing there…and [he] dropped to the ground…

Thompson says her brother was standing with his hands in what she called the “bro” position – hands held outstretched mid-body as if to “explain himself.” She says Donald was five feet from Andre when the shots were fired. She says their instinct was to pull over when they heard the first gunfire, but afraid of being caught in crossfire, they left the scene after Andre was hit.

These conflicting accounts raise even more questions:

Why does Donald not mention Harry and Thompson’s vehicle in his statement? He also neglects to mention a police vehicle that had passed by momentarily before Harry and Thompson. That car turned onto 14th while making radio contact with Donald to confirm the suspects were in the woods. He said he was watching for cars and had the ability to see for “miles” up and down Cooper Point Road. Also, he was standing on the pavement when both cars passed.

What were Chaplin and Thompson thinking? Does it makes sense for the men to have split up? If Thompson was hiding, why did he come out? Why didn’t he continue hiding, or try to escape? Especially since he knew the officer waswilling to shoot him? Why did Thompson run aggressively toward Donald after Chaplin had been shot? He had to have realized it was suicide. It is hard to discern credible motives for these decisions, especially given that, per Antonio Harry, Chaplin was no stranger to the court system. It was certainly not in his interest to get in such serious trouble, especially assaulting an officer.

Was Chaplin exiting the woods because he was wounded and needed medical help? Donald thought he had shot him. Chaplin is currently paralyzed from the waist down. Was it even possible for him to stand at this point? Donald’s description makes it seem like Chaplin was struggling to stand.

Witnesses report man yelling “Come at me.”

Two nearby witnesses report hearing a man taunting the police in the midst of the gunfire. Mikki Brandell, 37, is a resident of Tabitha Court, a short dead end street off of Walnut that runs parallel to Cooper Point Rd. She states:

A: I heard…a single…man’s voice saying come at me bro, come at, what, bang, bang, bang, come at me and then everything went kind of quiet after that.

Q: If you had to describe…the tone or the way they were talking how would you describe it?

A: It was shouting…with the shouting was very intense…it was and intense situation…with the lone man saying…come at me he was you could tell he was kind of distraught…with the officer saying get down, get down, you could tell they meant business.

Q: Now when you say distraught is that more scared distraught or angry distraught or what do you mean?

A: I don’t know if it was a scared distraught but I think it was um maybe with…with guns pointing at him I think that I don’t…I don’t know I mean it…but it…he was um taunting the police or whoever it was pointing at him he was taunting them saying come at me.

Brandell’s account is seconded by James Ambrose, 43, who resides in the 1100 block of Cooper Point, and says, “one of them was saying something like come at me.”

What about the gunshot wounds?

The only evidence markers for blood stains were found close to where the suspects fell – there are none between the patrol car and the wooded area. No medical reports that would verify wound information have been released.

OPD Officer O’Brien was the first to arrive at the scene. He states that Chaplin was “kind of unresponsive” but that Thompson was still “verbal.”

As OPD Officer Frailey tends to a wound in Thompson’s abdomen, O’Brien turns his attention to Chaplin. He lifts his sweatshirt to assess his condition, “I saw one [gunshot] right above his right nipple and I thought that might be causing a sunken chest wound. I saw two in the back and – two holes in the back. I was looking for exit – exit wounds or entry. I couldn’t tell, you know which ones they were.” He later removes Chaplin’s handcuffs so aid could be rendered. He remarks that, “clearly this guy wasn’t going anywhere.”

A slightly different assessment was given by OPD Officer Smith who had examined Chaplin before letting O’Brien take over:

“I pulled up his shirt, and saw two – two distinct wounds on his back. About lower, mid-section and… they were circular shaped wounds. Then beyond his lower right side on his back, there was a – it wasn’t circular. It was almost like a slash almost or like a graze of some sort…they had blood, a little bit of blood around them but they weren’t like profusely bleeding…I could see flesh…so I rolled him back down and then checked his…stomach area and I could see a wound. It was on his right side. I believe it was just down below the nipple a little ways. And more to the edge of the side there.”

OPD Officer Seig was responsible for photographing Chaplin’s wounds. From the Incident Investigation Report prepared by the Tumwater Police Department on May 21st:

“[Officer Seig] stated she observed two holes in the suspect’s back and what she believed to be an exit wound on his chest. She did not see a lot of blood coming out of the wounds…Seig told the suspect to stay still and that the medics were coming and the suspect said ‘Yes, ma’am! Yes ma’am!’”

Questions about suspects’ behavior

It must be noted that the way Donald describes the men as if they were invincible and unstoppable except by use of force is strikingly similar to language used by Darren Wilson in descriptions of Michael Brown in an August 2015 New Yorker interview. The magazine quotes Melissa Harris-Perry, a MSNBC commentator, who says Wilson’s language was dehumanizing and conformed to the “myth of the black brute incapable of pain himself bent on inflicting pain on others…Americans long have had difficulty in understanding, acknowledging, and having empathy for the pain of black men.”

Donald’s conviction that the men were extremely dangerous is contradicted by statements about the suspects’ behavior given by other police witnesses.

Bryson Chaplin has had several run-ins with the law, including a current DUI that he was under Antonio Harry’s close supervision for. According to Harry, who lives with both men, “They’re definitely not innocent boys” and that Chaplin also had “a trespassing charge near Spokane.”

Harry would says the boys were never violent around the house, even when they were drinking. Harry reports both Chaplin and Thompson enjoyed alcohol, sometimes to extremes. Harry reports that the men probably used marijuana but “nothing heavy.”

It is possible that Chaplin and Thompson were intoxicated at the time of the shooting, although toxicology reports are not yet available. One responding officer reported alcohol on Chaplin’s breath, and social media collected by the police have witnesses placing them drunk at Yauger Park earlier that night. It also appears that the men had successfully stolen beer from Safeway previously that night according to Safeway workers, Jason Gray and Tammy Brown.

Reactions to being shot

Witness Mikki Brandell, who heard Andre Thomas taunting Donald, also heard Bryson Chaplin begging for his life, “I did hear one man say um something about dying…oh my God I’m going to die or I don’t want to die…I hear shouting and then I hear another set of four gunshots.”

Paul Evers, OPD Police Training Officer, says in his post-incident statement that Thompson was “complaining, uh, about being shot…”

OPD Officer Sola who rendered first aid to Thompson encouraged him to relax and breathe. Sola was tasked with accompanying Thompson to the hospital, along with Officer Frailey. On the way, Thompson expressed concern for his brother and is described by Sola as “willing to talk to us and he wasn’t resentful…I think at one point maybe he said that we had a job to do.”

Frailey concurs, describing Thompson as “cooperative…he seemed a little bit intoxicated…I could smell alcohol and [his] speech was slurred a little bit…but he was friendly and real cooperative and engaging.” Thompson talked about his work and hobbies during the ambulance trip.

Why did Thompson go from an alleged skateboard-wielding assailant to a friendly and cooperative drunk? Wouldn’t Thompson be even more angry because he and his brother had been shot?

Residents put in danger from stray bullet

Officer Smith, who earlier gave aid to Bryson Chaplin before Officer O’Brien took over, decided to check on the residence just south of where the men were shot. It was this house’s recycling bin that Donald alleges the suspects knocked over. Smith immediately noticed a hole in the upstairs window.

He was met at the door by an anxious resident. Inside the home, he found a total of six adults and two children, including a five-month-old, congregated on the second floor landing. When he examined the window from the inside he found a “softball” sized hole and was able to ascertain that the shot clearly had an upward angle. The WSP Crime Laboratory Report said the bullet was likely fired from “the proximity of the northernmost perimeter of the scene.”

Two of the female occupants had been in the room when they heard “yelling” and the first shots. Scared, they ran out of the room. A short time later they heard more shots and the window break.

Donald’s attorney confused, too?

At the end of the interview with Officer Donald, his attorney, Sax Rodgers, interjects:

“The only thing I’d like to emphasize, just listening to all this…there’s absolutely no justification, that I can see from looking at it, trying to look at it objectively, for these people to react this way whatsoever. The worse thing that could happen to them is…get a ticket for some misdemeanor, or maybe possibly taken downtown. But, I doubt it, that time of night. And everything they did was proactive aggressive to hurt, I mean, there’s, there’s not even any reason for them to do that.”

The community is wondering the same thing. Further evidence and expert analysis will certainly help, as will hearing the story from the point of view of the shooting victims.

WIP cautions the community to not make assumptions about the case without full information. Despite the flaws in our criminal justice system, it is an encouraging sign that the Prosecutor’s office has been transparent and made these critical and revealing documents available. We encourage citizens to read them and decide for themselves.

The documents on the shooting are available for the public to download from the Thurston County Government website’s Prosecuting Attorney page.

 

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