A jury found that Olympia Officer Ryan Donald did not violate the constitutional rights of two brothers when he shot them following reports that two men matching their description had attempted to steal beer from a supermarket. The jury also rejected the assertion that the shooting had been negligent.
The defense attorney representing the city in the case, Andrew Cooley, stated: “This is a case where we had a $20 million gun stuck to our head.” The lawsuit centered on the account of events resulting in the shooting of Bryson Chaplin and Andre Thompson.
Chaplin had been caught stealing beer at a supermarket on the west side. An employee told police that the suspect had thrown a case of beer at her when he was confronted. Donald encountered the two brothers, who matched the description of the suspects provided, and asked them to stop. They did not comply. The events that followed, leading up to the shooting, have been the subject of contention in the civil case.
The attorney representing Chaplin and Thompson, Sunni Ko, claimed that the brothers had fled into the woods when confronted by Donald. They had changed direction when they heard other officers coming toward them. When they emerged from the woods, Ko claims, Donald shot them unprovoked.
According to Ko, Donald had yelled at Chaplin to get down. He did not comply when he got out of the woods. Thompson cursed at Donald, and a witness heard him yell “come at me.” This part is not in contention.
The defense maintained that Chaplin attacked the officer with a skateboard, causing Officer Donald to fear for his life and shoot him. He then shot Thompson, who was approaching him. He believed at the time that Thompson was going to take his weapon. “Officer Donald shot Plaintiffs because he was afraid they would kill him,” the defendant’s trial brief states.
According to the lawsuit, Chaplin’s spine was injured by the rounds and caused paralysis. He is in a wheelchair and needs full-time care, the suit added. Thompson, however, “sustained severe physical and emotional injuries.”
Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office determined that Donald “was acting in good faith,” and the city’s Shooting Review Board stated that Donald’s actions were “within policy” and didn’t “precipitate the use of force.”
Chaplin and Thompson were charged with two counts of second-degree assault against Donald, with Chaplin facing an additional charge of fourth-degree assault for his role in the supermarket incident. A jury later found the brothers guilty of one count of third-degree assault in the encounter with the officer. Jurors couldn’t agree on the other second-degree assault charge, and the judge declared a mistrial. Chaplin was found guilty of fourth-degree assault for the supermarket incident. Both brothers received jail time.
During closing arguments, attorneys for Chaplin and Thompson argued that Donald’s account of the shooting was inconsistent and not credible. “How many inconsistencies do you need to hear before you realize he is not worthy of the friends, his fellow officers who came into this courtroom and vouched for his excellence? No matter how he surrounds himself with their fragrance, their perfume, he cannot rid himself of his own stink, and their goodness cannot shield Officer Donald from Officer Donald,” Ko said.
Cooley, in his closing argument, called the suit a “referendum on how we’re going to treat” individuals like the supermarket employee who had called in to report the theft.
“This is a restorative justice moment for all of us,” Cooley told the jury. “Ryan Donald took appropriate and reasonable action, he acted constitutionally, he’s being accused of outrageous things. You have the chance to clear his name.”
Following a three-hour deliberation, the jury returned with the completed verdict form. Donald embraced his lawyers after the verdict was read. According to Ko, the family of Chaplin and Thompson is “terribly disappointed” by the verdict, “but they will do their very best to move on with their lives.”
Sources: The Seattle Times