Olympia police Officer Ryan Donald fielded questions from prosecutors and defense attorneys about the May 21, 2015, shooting of Andre Thompson at the trial of Thompson and his brother, Bryson Chaplin, during testimony Thursday.
Donald said that Thompson — who was unarmed — was trying to take his gun, and that’s why he shot him. It would have been impossible to switch to a less lethal weapon, Donald said.
“It was impossible for me to transition to another force tool, to holster my weapon,” Donald said.
Chaplin and Thompson face assault charges resulting from an alleged attack on Donald, who was attempting to apprehend the brothers after responding to a report of thefts and an assault at a west Olympia supermarket.
Both men were shot during the altercation with Donald, who was cleared of wrongdoing by the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office and the Olympia Police Department.
The Prosecutor's Office also filed theft charges against Thompson and Chaplin last October. Chaplin pleaded guilty March 27 to three counts of third-degree theft. Thompson still faces one count of third-degree theft.
Each man is charged with two counts of second-degree assault for the alleged attack on Donald, and Chaplin also faces one count of fourth-degree theft for an alleged assault on a Safeway employee.
Deputy Prosecutor Scott Jackson began questioning Donald early Wednesday and continued Thursday morning. Defense attorney Sunni Ko began her cross examination in the afternoon.
But tensions reached a head Thursday morning before testimony even began, when Deputy Prosecutor Wayne Graham brought forward photos of Donald taken during court Wednesday, in violation of court rules.
The photos were posted to the Facebook page of Lisa Ganser, a friend of the Chaplin-Thompson family, who has been in court since the start of the trial. According to court rules, only members of the news media may record or take photos during court proceedings.
Graham asked that Ganser be removed from the courtroom for the remainder of the trial. Thurston County Superior Court Judge Erik Price instead issued a stern warning.
Price, who presides over the case, called the photos an “utter and complete violation” of the court’s rules and expectations.
“This court has tried over and over and over again to be exceedingly tolerant,” Price said.
“This is this court’s issue. This is this court’s courtroom. And this is utterly unacceptable,” he added.
Both defense attorneys, George Trejo, who represents Chaplin, and Sunni Ko, who represents Thompson, told the court how supportive Ganser has been to the family throughout the case.
Price called Ganser forward. Ganser said she hadn’t taken the photos — they were sent to her, and she posted them on Facebook.
“I don’t feel like this family is getting a fair trial,” Ganser said. “I don’t feel that this system is fair toward black folks.”
Wednesday, Donald testified about searching for the suspects in an alleged assault at the west Olympia Safeway, how he encountered Thompson and Chaplin on Cooper Point Road, and his decision to shoot Chaplin. He ended his Wednesday testimony by telling Jackson that he saw Chaplin crouching in the edge of the woods.
That’s where he picked up Thursday.
Donald said that Chaplin stood up, still holding his skateboard. He said Thompson also was approaching, empty handed, from down the road. He reportedly told the men to get on the ground and put their hands up. He said they didn’t obey his commands.
Donald said Chaplin began running toward him with the skateboard raised over his head. He believed that if Chaplin swung the board, the metal trucks would strike him in the head. Thompson also was running toward him, Donald said. It was difficult to track the movements of both men.
He said he decided to address the man with the skateboard first.
“There was no doubt in my mind that he was going to attempt to assault me a second time with the skateboard,” Donald said.
“In order to preserve my own life, I decided to discharge my firearm to stop the threat,” he added.
Donald said he fired until Chaplin was “no longer a threat.” Chaplin dropped the skateboard and stumbled backward.
Donald said Thompson walked over to Chaplin. Donald described him as “yelling, screaming, angry.” Thompson stood up, and began walking quickly toward Donald, he said. There was nothing in his hands.
“He was yelling, screaming and his hands were flailing around,” Donald said.
Donald said that Thompson already had tried to take him to the ground. He feared that Thompson was going to try and disarm him. He said that Thompson was walking fast enough that he didn’t have time to put away his gun and take out his Taser or pepper spray.
Thompson was looking at the gun, and he reached for the weapon, Donald said. He said he fired at Thompson with the gun close to his chest.
“I fired until he was no longer a threat, until he stopped walking toward me,” Donald said.
Donald advised dispatchers that he heard more movement in the woods. He said he wasn’t aware that two other Olympia police officers were coming through the woods.
Officer Luke O’Brien came out of the woods and climbed over the guardrail, Donald said.
He requested that dispatch send medics to the scene. He said that both men appeared to be in pain.
“Both of them were on the ground, rolling around, cussing, yelling,” Donald said.
Sgt. Matt Renschler arrived at the scene. Donald said Renschler asked him to “secure” the suspects, to place them in handcuffs. Other officers continued to arrive at the scene.
Eventually, Officer Paul Evers approached him and walked him away from the scene. Donald said he talked to Renschler and let him know there were no other outstanding suspects.
Evers took Donald back to the station, where eventually detectives from the Tumwater Police Department and Thurston County Sheriff’s Office came to take photos and talk to him. He didn’t give a statement until May 26, 2015, in accordance with his Olympia Police Guild contract.
Donald said he provided a 10-page written statement about the incident. He said he prepared it in the days following the shooting.
“As you separate yourself timewise from the event, things start to become clear,” Donald said.
He also provided a recorded verbal statement at the office of Saxon Rodgers, who was representing him at that time.
Evers and detectives from the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office and Tumwater Police Department also were present.
That wrapped up Jackson’s questioning.
Ko began her questioning after lunch with those written and recorded statements. She asked him about the importance of details in those statements.
“You knew that there would be a lot of questions, not only by the department, and by the public as well, didn’t you?” Ko asked.
Donald replied that he did.
Ko questioned Donald extensively regarding his self defense and hand-to-hand combat training. He said he received hand-to-hand combat training in the Army during basic training, in late 2001 or 2002. There were occasional refresher courses.
He also received defensive tactics training in the police academy, with refresher courses about twice a year, he said.
Ko also asked Donald about his firearm training — being trained to shoot at center mass, focusing on targets and weapon retention.
“Are there ways to keep your weapon without shooting the person who is trying to take it from you?” Ko asked.
Donald replied that shooting someone is a last resort. Ko asked him to clarify.
“Someone in their right mind would not fight someone holding a firearm,” Donald said
Ko also asked him about the other force tools that Donald had available, including pepper spray and Tasers.
Donald said an officer would use a Taser in a case where someone is actively resisting during a struggle. A Taser can be fired up to 21 feet.
He said that both probes have to hit someone, and it’s difficult to use them when someone is moving around.
The attorney questioned Donald about the decisions he made upon stopping his car at the 1200 block of Cooper Point Road.
Donald told her that he stopped the car for a field interview to see if the men walking on the road were, in fact, the men from Safeway.
Ko read him back a portion of his statement, in which he said the men on the road perfectly matched the descriptions of the men from Safeway.
She asked him is he was sure the men on the road were the suspects.
“Just because I believed it was doesn’t mean they were,” Donald said.
“Until I contacted them and talked to them, I still wasn’t 100 percent sure it was them,” he added.
Donald said he asked the two men to have a seat at the front of the car. Ko asked why, at that point, he didn’t turn on his emergency lights.
He responded that he was already out of the car, and he would have had to take his eyes off of the men to climb back into the car and turn on the lights.
She asked Donald why he didn’t identify himself as an Olympia police officer when he asked the men to have a seat.
She also asked if she believed the men could see his “shiny badge” in the dark, from where they were standing.
“I know they saw my patrol car drive past them that says Olympia Police in large font on the side of it,” Donald said.
“It’s pretty easily identifiable as a patrol car,” he added.
Ko asked whether he had left the lights off to prevent Thompson and Chaplin from knowing that he was a police officer. Donald said that was not his intention.