Prosecutor: shooter in downtown Olympia acted in self defense

The Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has declined to prosecute a man who shot another man twice in downtown Olympia on May 1 because it appears he “reasonably believed” his life was in danger, a prosecutor said Friday.

“A reasonable person would have felt that his life was being threatened,” Thurston County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Heather Stone explained.

Olympia police have said the shooting occurred about 11:30 p.m. May 1, during a confrontation between the shooter and group of people who had surrounded him. The shooter had witnessed a member of the group break into a parked car at Fourth Avenue and Adams Street and steal a handbag containing a cell phone, police have said.

Despite being cleared of criminal wrongdoing for his role in shooting, the man said the incident continues to have a negative impact on his life.

The shooting victim was treated and released from an area hospital and is recovering, Stone said Friday. He was shot once in the abdomen and once in the hand.

The shooter was present at the courthouse Friday because a member of the group that had surrounded him downtown had just been sentenced to five months in jail for threatening to kill him on three different occasions in May.

During an interview outside an Olympia courtroom Friday, the shooter, an Olympia High School graduate and Marine veteran in his 30s, described the events.

He said that members of the group that surrounded him on May 1 identified themselves as Crips. He said that people affiliated with the group continue to harass him, even to the point of one person posting his license plate number on his Facebook page.

According to court papers, the man sentenced in Olympia on Friday has threatened him on three separate occasions. During one of those incidents on May 10, the suspect, Ramon David Thomas, 32, approached him in downtown Olympia and said, “I (expletive) know who you are, (expletive),” court papers state. “We are going to get you (expletive) and your family...you are (expletive) dead.”

Thomas entered an Alford plea Friday to a charge of felony harassment, threats to kill, before Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Schaller. Under an Alford plea, a defendant does not technically admit guilt, but admits there is enough evidence to convict. It counts as a felony conviction in the eyes of the law and carries the same penalties.

Thomas has a prior juvenile conviction for manslaughter out of California, Stone said in court Friday. Thomas said in court that he was living on the street of Olympia, prior to his recent incarceration.

During Friday’s sentencing, the man who was threatened by Thomas spoke about how he, his significant other and their young child are now afraid to go into downtown Olympia for fear of being killed. The Olympian is not naming the man because of the threats against his life.

He told Schaller he formerly enjoyed going to the downtown YMCA, and taking his child to the Hands On Children’s Museum. He said he takes the group’s threats to kill him very seriously. He said he’s also lost his job as a home health care provider for a disabled adult downtown, because he cannot put his client at risk.

Reviewing the events of May 1, the man said he was standing outside at the corner of Fourth and Adams Street shortly before 11:30 p.m. when he witnessed a man break into a vehicle and steal a small handbag. He said he was waiting for his client, the disabled adult he formerly cared for.

He said that soon after the car burglary, he saw the owners of the vehicle return, and he indicated to them the direction the suspect had fled. At that point, the car burglary suspect returned, Thomas joined him, and the owners of the vehicle confronted them. Heated words were exchanged between the two groups, he said.

He added that at that point, he was trying to keep the peace.

The owners of the vehicle that had been burglarized called police, he said.

As members of the group that burglarized the car tried to engage the man in conversation, he said he realized that individuals were trying to enter his “blind side.” He said he believed one or more of the members of the group were going to hit him. He said he also noticed that the group had grown to about four people, he said. “They bum rushed me from around the car and into the street,” he said. After one member of the group struck him in the head with his fist, he said he pulled his .380 caliber handgun from his waistband and fired three times. He said his assailant was between three and four feet away from him when he fired.

“I exercised the threat of deadly force because I was required to,” he said.

The man emphasized that the events leading up to the shooting occurred in seconds.

Stone said the man’s statement of firing his handgun only after being struck in the head was corroborated by another witness.

Olympia police spokeswoman Laura Wohl said the contents of the shooting investigation were not available for review on Friday afternoon. The Olympian has made a formal public records request for the documents.

Olympia Police Sgt. Aaron Jelcick has said in a prior interview that the shooter was sober and was carrying a concealed-carry license. The evidence indicates that after firing the shots, he holstered his weapon, according to a document from the prosecutor’s office.

“Always,” added the man outside court Friday. “I carry a firearm everywhere with me. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I think my worst habit is I spend too much money on shotguns.”

The man said he understands why police were tough on him when they placed him in handcuffs and took him into custody after the shooting. He added that “they brought me to tears” during the interrogation.

The man said he believes law enforcement needs to be given the funds and the tools to be able to clean up downtown Olympia. Although he is upset over the continuing fear he and his family feel because of the incident, he said realizes the outcome could have been worse.

“Better me than somebody else who would have died that night in the street,” he said.