Family attorney questions investigators’ narrative in shooting of antifa supporter
Lawyers for the family of a self-proclaimed anti-fascist protester who was shot dead by a federal task force outside Olympia last fall say the facts of the case “put down by investigators” “put an absolute strain on its credibility”.
“The narrative the police are publishing just doesn’t make sense,” said Fred Langer, a Seattle personal injury attorney who was hired by the surviving family of Michael Forest Reinoehl and shot dead on September 3 by a US marshal surrender became power.
Investigators did not publish their full report, but on Wednesday the Thurston County Sheriff’s office announced it had completed its review of the shooting and turned it over to prosecutors for a final decision on whether the murder was warranted .
The sheriff’s office issued a two-page summary of the results, showing that Reinoehl reached for a firearm in his possession based on statements from officials and witnesses. The sheriff’s office said Reinoehl “initiated” an exchange of fire with the police even though investigators were unable to recover a bullet to confirm that Reinoehl had fired his gun. The police retrieved Reinoehl’s loaded .380 pistol in his right trouser pocket and a .380 cartridge case from the same weapon in the back seat of his car.
Officials are working at a location late Thursday, September 3, 2020, where a man suspected of fatally shooting a right-wing group supporter in Portland, Oregon the week before was killed as investigators moved in, to arrest him in Lacey. Wash. Michael Reinoehl, 48, was killed when a federal task force tried to arrest him in Lacey, a senior Justice Department official said. Reinoehl was the prime suspect in the murder of 39-year-old Aaron “Jay” Danielson, who was shot in the chest Saturday night, the officer said.
Ted Warren / AP
When pressed on Wednesday to clarify how the gun ended up in Reinoehl’s pocket after he allegedly shot her, investigators said she put the gun down when police shot him.
“He was in his vehicle when he was initially engaged and got out of his vehicle before he settled down, but all within seconds,” said Lt. Cameron Simper, who led the investigation for the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office.
The officers involved in the shooting did not wear body cameras.
During an investigation by the OPB and ProPublica in October, several witnesses said they had not heard police identify themselves as they drove up quickly in unmarked vehicles. Separately, the New York Times spoke to 21 people near the scene who didn’t hear officers identify themselves or give orders before police opened fire.
“There was no ‘dropping your gun’ or ‘freezing’ or ‘police’ – no warning at all,” Garrett Louis, who witnessed part of the shooting, told OPB and ProPublica in October.
However, Thurston County investigators said in their summary that “testimony suggests officers were easily identified by their badges, vests and markings.” According to the sheriff’s office report, task force members said Reinoehl “did not follow handover instructions.”
“If they had said,” Hands up, surrender, we are the police, “I have every reason to believe that my client would have,” said Lager, the family’s lawyer.
Michael Reinoehl said he was acting to defend another person when he shot and killed Aaron “Jay” Danielson at a pro-Trump rally in Portland.
Screenshot from OPB / ProPublica
Reinoehl, a 48-year-old Portlander, was wanted at the time of his death for the murder of Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a 39-year-old far-right protester. The weapon found on Reinoehl’s body matched the one used in Danielson’s murder, investigators confirmed.
Both shootings attracted national attention during a remarkably tense week in the northwest. Former President Donald Trump encouraged law enforcement to pursue Reinoehl, whose murder was celebrated by then Attorney General Bill Barr. Danielson’s assassination was a rare example of murder by the member of the far left. The escalation of political violence culminated after a summer of protests against racial justice in Portland, which included a violent reaction from police, federal agencies, and later right-wing groups such as the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer.
The four officers who killed Reinoehl fired 40 shots, said Simper, who was overseeing the investigation.
“We couldn’t find the actual round of (Reinoehl’s pistol) to definitely say, ‘absolutely’ that he fired from that car,” Simper told OPB earlier this week. “Based on our investigation, based on the testimony of witnesses, the case in the car, and what the officers said, it is very likely.”
Langer questioned Simper’s characterization as implausible.
“There’s no .380 caliber outside the car,” Langer said. “Not one.”
He added, “What could prove their case and make their position very strong is if they could find a .380 (bullet) to match his weapon outside the vehicle and they didn’t find any.”
Langer said there was also no forensic evidence that Reinoehl fired that day.
According to Simper, the passenger side window of Reinoehl’s VW was shot out. But he said detectives were unable to determine whether it was a police fire incident or a round emanating from Reinoehl.
“To believe the police, my client would have had to sit in his car, fire a shot … put his gun in his pocket and run away,” said Langer. “This is a case that calls for investigation. What we have is the police acting as judge, jury and executioner in a nanosecond. “
The apartment in Lacey, Washington, where Michael Forest Reinoehl stayed before police killed him, police said.
Conrad Wilson / OPB
Five days after the shooting, witness Nate Dinguss made a statement that officials never tried to arrest Reinoehl and gave no orders before the shooting. Rather, he said, Reinoehl went to his car, “chewed on a rubber worm” and carried a cell phone when two vehicles pulled up “and began to shoot”. Dinguss said he never saw a gun or Reinoehl reached for anything, and Reinoehl never got into his vehicle.
What Dinguss did not mention in his testimony was that Reinoehl had stayed with him. He has repeatedly declined OPB’s requests for an interview. Dinguss also declined to speak to Thurston County investigators, Simper said.
Last fall, Reinoehl’s son Deaven Reinoehl told OPB and ProPublica that he was in regular contact with his father in the days between the Portland shootings and his death outside an apartment complex in Lacey, Washington.
“He didn’t know where he was going,” said Deaven Reinoehll. “He had people helping him find those safe houses or whatever. That’s why he was in Lacey, but I don’t know about these people or anything. “
Langer, who represents the younger Reinoehl and other family members, said he looks forward to reading the full Thurston County’s investigation and doing his own review of the evidence. Based on the results, he said the family could pursue an unlawful death lawsuit.
On Friday, the Thurston County Attorney’s Office concluded that they have the legal authority to review the investigation for possible criminal charges. An agency spokeswoman said she expected to finalize her review before the end of May.