Jurors heard opening statements Wednesday in the trial of an Olympia man accused of attempted first-degree murder for allegedly shooting a member of Thurston County’s SWAT team in the arm while members of the local drug task force served a search warrant at his home in June 2011.
Christopher Self, 40, is on trial for two counts of attempted first-degree murder for allegedly firing one shot that struck the member of the SWAT team on June 6, 2011. The SWAT team assisted the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force with the search warrant at Self’s home in the 5000 block of 70th Avenue in Olympia on that date. The other count of attempted first-degree murder is due to the alleged proximity of another SWAT team member when the shot was fired.
The task force obtained the warrant after a confidential informant working for the task force had bought drugs from Self on seven separate occasions during controlled buys, Thurston County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Toynbee said in court. Self had sold drugs, including marijuana and ecstasy pills, to the informant, court papers state.
In addition to the two counts of attempted first-degree murder, Self is on trial for nine counts of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance, two counts of unlawful use of a building for drug purposes, three counts of unlawful possession of a controlled substance and one count of unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance, for an alleged marijuana grow at Self’s residence.
During defense attorney Kevin Johnson’s opening statement, he conceded that Self “did some things wrong,” in agreeing to “help a friend out,” by selling him marijuana. However, Johnson said that Self did not intend to murder anyone when he fired a single shot at the window of his home when he was awakened by what he believed to be intruders.
“The question is, did he intend to murder two police officers when they approached his house?” Johnson asked the jury. “Does a person have the right to protect himself in his home?”
Johnson added that Self acted “reasonably” that morning when he fired a single shot. He also suggested that it is an overreach to charge him with two counts of attempted first-degree murder when he only fired a single shot.
“He didn’t intend to murder anybody,” Johnson said of Self.
Johnson told the jury that when the SWAT team surrounded Self’s house, the blinds and the window to his bedroom were open “just two to three inches,” so he could not have known anyone was standing there.
“He fires, but he fires at the windowsill, just to scare the intruder off,” Johnson said. Johnson added that Self said, “I didn’t know you were police” after he surrendered and saw the SWAT team members entering his bedroom.
During Toynbee’s opening statement, he enumerated the seven controlled buys of drugs by the confidential informant that were supervised by the drug task force. He added that when the task force and SWAT team decided on what type of approach to take in serving the search warrant at Self’s home, its members looked at Self’s military history, the presence of firearms in the residence, the presence of surveillance cameras, and the pit bulls that lived there. After considering these factors, the task force decided “this was a high-risk situation,” Toynbee said.
The SWAT team deployed with two of its members standing near Self’s bedroom window, armed with concussive “flash bang” grenades. Toynbee explained that “flash bang” grenades do not harm a subject, but are meant to make a loud noise to startle or distract so the threat can be safely neutralized. The two SWAT team members near Self’s window saw movement through the blinds, and, as other SWAT team members entered the residence, one of the SWAT members at the window threw the flash bang grenade through the glass.
“The people inside know that they’re there, know that they’re coming,” Toynbee said.
As the SWAT team members entered through Self’s bedroom door, one of the SWAT members at the window felt like he had been hit in the arm with a baseball bat, Toynbee said. That officer was struck in the arm with a bullet. SWAT team members discovered Self on one knee in the bedroom, and he said, “Don’t shoot me,” several times as he surrendered. A gun and one spent shell casing were discovered near Self in the bedroom, Toynbee added.
The injured SWAT team member was taken to a nearby hospital for emergency treatment. The officer, who is employed as a detective with the Olympia Police Department, has recovered and is back on the job.
Johnson said police did not have to serve a “high-risk” warrant using the SWAT team to effect Self’s arrest. Self, who had part of his leg amputated after a motorcycle accident, was sleeping in bed with his girlfriend when police served the warrant, Johnson said. He added that Self has a medicinal marijuana authorization from the state to deal with ongoing pain from his motorcycle accident.
“They argue that they had to do a dynamic entry,” Johnson told the jury. “The evidence will show that that was not necessary. That was excessive.”
The confidential informant who bought drugs from Self and a large number of police witnesses are expected to testify at trial.
Self’s trial will continue through the next several weeks in Thurston County Superior Court Judge James Dixon’s courtroom.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445