A prosecutor in Washington state declined to file charges against the officers involved in the fatal shooting of Michael Reinoehl, a fugitive sought on an arrest warrant in a murder in downtown Portland last year after a pro-Trump rally, but he called on federal authorities to further review the use of deadly force.
Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim questioned his jurisdiction to evaluate the deadly force used by officers who had been deputized as special federal marshals to arrest Reinoehl.
While he found the fatal shooting justified under Washington state law, he urged the U.S. Attorney’s Office or another federal agency to determine if the shooting followed federal law or policy. He said he suspected any state ruling would likely be challenged for lack of jurisdiction, citing case law.
“If the state were to file criminal charges against any of these officers, a federal court would likely be petitioned to review the case to determine if federal immunity applies. If that court deemed the officers’ actions reasonable, then immunity would apply, and the state would be barred from pursuing a criminal prosecution,” Tunheim wrote in a 24-page review of the shooting.
On Sept. 3, four officers who were part of the U.S. Marshals Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force fired a total of 40 gunshots at Reinoehl as they attempted to arrest him on a murder warrant in the Aug. 29 fatal shooting of Aaron “Jay” Danielson in Portland. The barrage of shots sent children and families outside scattering for cover, according to police reports.
One of the officers fired through the front windshield of his unmarked police SUV at Reinoehl, who was in the driver’s seat of a parked Volkswagen Jetta station wagon in front of the SUV, according to investigative records.
Tunheim noted his concerns about the planning and management of the operation – including poor radio communication between the officers, the lack of notice given to local law enforcement of the task force actions and the potential harm to bystanders and witnesses.
But he ultimately decided that the officers who cornered Reinoehl after he had emerged from an apartment complex near Lacey acted reasonably and didn’t have to wait to see Reinoehl produce a gun when they fired at him as he was sitting in the Jetta.
They acted “in defense to a perceived immediate threat,” he wrote, and once Reinoehl emerged from the Jetta and crouched behind the car, the officers were justified in firing at him again.
The officers reasonably believed Reinoehl was “actively attempting to evade capture or get to a position where he could use force against the officers,” Tunheim wrote.
The radio reception among the task force officers, though, was faulty, intermittent and full of static, hampering communications at the scene as soon as Reinoehl was spotted, according to police reports. Within minutes of their arrival, four officers opened fire, striking and killing Reinoehl.
Tunheim questioned the officers’ decision to continue with the operation even as they had trouble communicating on a single radio channel. Two officers simply decided to move in, though the leader of the team couldn’t effectively communicate a decision to pursue Reinoehl, Tunheim’s memo said.
“In fact, the recorded radio traffic captured a debate among the members where some officers felt they should move in and at least one other expressed concern they were too far away and should wait. It appears the decision to proceed with attempting an arrest was actually made by the two officers who simply decided to move in,” Tunheim wrote.
He said federal officers must review the handling of this case to try to minimize dangers to others during such a high-risk arrest by task force members, highlighting “how fortunate it was that no bystanders were injured or killed as a result of this confrontation.”
Witnesses reported seeing no lights or sirens on the first two unmarked law enforcement cars that cornered the Jetta outside the apartment complex, the memo said.
“There is a distinct possibility that a small child was struck by some sort of object or debris during the shooting. He described being hit by one of the ‘sparks’ from the officers’ gunfire. We do know that one bullet struck a nearby apartment building, traveling through the exterior wall, through a room, and lodged in another interior wall. Fortunately, no one was in its path,” Tunheim wrote in the memo, first reported on by OPB Monday night.
” I raise these concerns to recommend that this case be used to review task force procedures and policies to minimize danger to suspects, witnesses and officers during high-risk events.”
Rienoehl, a 48-year-old, self-described anti-fascist who said he provided security at social justice protests, was wanted in the Aug. 29 fatal shooting of Danielson, 39, a supporter of the right-wing Patriot Prayer group, in downtown Portland after a pro-Trump car caravan.
Earlier this month, the estate for Danielson filed a lawsuit against the city of Portland, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County’s district attorney, claiming their alleged negligence contributed to his violent death. The suit, filed in federal court in Portland, contends a “hands-off approach” to political demonstrations and counter-protests in Portland fostered a “culture of vigilante policing” between opposing factions that filled the void and led to Danielson’s killing.
— Maxine Bernstein
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