A police officer shot two black men Thursday who tried to steal beer from a grocery store, prompting protests in front of City Hall.
The stepbrothers — Bryson Chaplin, 21, who was critically injured and Andre Thompson, 24, in stable condition — are expected to survive. The suspects were not armed, but Officer Ryan Donald, 35, told dispatchers over the police radio that he was assaulted with a skateboard, Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts said.
Donald has been an officer in Olympia, the state's capital, for three years and last week received a department award for addressing bicycle thefts downtown and burglaries at Olympia High School. He previously was an Army military policeman.
Around 1 a.m. PT, Olympia police responded to a Safeway where employees said two men had tried to shoplift beer but threw the beer at them and fled when confronted, Roberts said. The assault victim gave a detailed description of the two suspects that included race as well as clothing, tattoos, approximate ages and height, which allowed Donald, who is white, to recognize the two men as he searched for them.
"There's no indication to me that race was a factor in this case at all," Roberts said.
Olympia has a population of less than 50,000, and 4 of 5 residents are white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 2% are black.
Jasmine Thompson said she was driving when she saw the officer shoot one of the men. She later realized the man was her brother; the men's names have not been released.
"There was no threat, nothing in his hands," Thompson said.
Just before noon, a small group of protesters gathered in front of Olympia City Hall in response to the shooting.
"Does the punishment fit the crime?" Merritt Long, a retired chairman of the state's liquor control board, asked after the police chief's press conference. "Given the seeming epidemic of this happening not only here but in our country, it makes you pause and wonder what's going on."
Olympia Mayor Stephen H. Buxbaum called for calm in the community.
"It deeply saddens me that we have two young people in the hospital as a result of an altercation with an officer of the law," he said. "Let's come together to support their needs, the officer's needs, the needs of the families and our community's needs. Let's not be reactive."
Roberts said Donald made contact with two men around 1:14 a.m., according to his call from the squad car. Minutes later at 1:16 a.m., Donald radioed to say that he had fired shots, and the dispatcher asked if the suspect had a weapon.
"No, he just assaulted me with a skateboard," Donald said. "I tried to grab his friend. They're very aggressive, just so you know."
Roberts said a confrontation occurred at the back of the patrol car.
The suspects fled into the woods across the street before confronting the officer again in the middle of the road, the chief said. During the second confrontation, the officer shot the second suspect multiple times in the torso.
Donald then rendered aid to the suspects and called for medics.
"What I can tell you is that when the subjects came out of the wood line, the officer was there. And there was some sort of confrontation there and the officer felt threatened and discharged his firearm," Roberts said.
Donald wasn't injured but an officer "has the right to defend himself" if a suspect wields an object that could be used as a deadly weapon, the police chief said. Donald is on leave while the shooting is under investigation.
The Thurston County Critical Incident Team is investigating the shooting, and Olympia police are conducting an internal investigation. Brad Watkins, chief deputy of the Thurston County Sheriff's Department, said two skateboards were recovered from the scene and an investigation likely will take three to six weeks.