SEATTLE — When a U.S. Marshals process drive killed a self-described antifa activist in Washington State in September, the Trump administration applauded the removing of a “violent agitator” who was suspected of homicide. Last week, native investigators concluded a monthslong murder inquiry with the announcement that the activist, Michael Reinoehl, had more than likely fired at authorities first, successfully justifying the capturing.
But a evaluation of investigation paperwork obtained by The New York Times means that investigators for the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office discounted key items of contradicting proof that point out Mr. Reinoehl might by no means have fired or pointed a gun.
While investigators discovered a spent bullet casing within the again seat of Mr. Reinoehl’s automobile, and pointed to that as proof he in all probability fired his weapon, the handgun they recovered from Mr. Reinoehl had a full clip, based on a number of photographs compiled by Thurston County authorities exhibiting Mr. Reinoehl’s handgun. The gun was present in his pocket.
The federally organized process drive, made up primarily of native regulation enforcement officers from Washington, had been looking for to arrest Mr. Reinoehl for the Aug. 29 capturing dying of a supporter of the far-right group Patriot Prayer through the summer time’s raucous avenue protests over race and policing. The arrest operation quickly erupted into gunfire, and Mr. Reinoehl died on the street close to his automobile in a residential neighborhood in Lacey, Wash.
The sheriff’s workplace in Thurston County, the place the capturing occurred, was not a part of the duty drive.
In asserting its conclusions, the sheriff’s workplace wrote that “witness statements indicate there was an exchange of gunfire, which was initiated by Reinoehl from inside his vehicle.” A spokesman, Lt. Cameron Simper, mentioned that whereas investigators couldn’t conclude for certainty that Mr. Reinoehl had fired his weapon, he mentioned it was “highly likely.”
But one of many witnesses that Thurston County investigators relied on to achieve their conclusion that Mr. Reinoehl had fired his gun was an 8-year-old boy. His father, Garrett Louis, who had rushed to his son’s aspect at the time of the capturing, has persistently mentioned he believed that officers opened hearth first with out shouting any warnings.
Of the 2 different witnesses who investigators cited to help the conclusion that Mr. Reinoehl fired his gun, one didn’t see it occur and the opposite was unsure.
Fred Langer, a lawyer representing Mr. Reinoehl’s household, mentioned the regulation enforcement conclusions defy frequent sense.
“They are covering for themselves,” Mr. Langer mentioned. “The physical evidence doesn’t support what they are saying.”
Mr. Reinoehl had been a constant fixture at racial justice protests in Portland, Ore., final summer time, carrying a gun as a volunteer safety officer among the many protesters and writing on-line that the protests had been a part of a battle with the potential to “fix everything.” On Aug. 29, when a caravan of Trump supporters drove into downtown Portland, clashing with left-wing activists, Mr. Reinoehl was on the streets.
Video footage shot by bystanders seems to indicate that Mr. Reinoehl approached Aaron J. Danielson, the Patriot Prayer supporter, as Mr. Danielson walked by way of the world with a can of bear repellent and an expandable baton. Mr. Reinoehl seems to have shot Mr. Danielson, killing him, earlier than working into the evening. He later claimed in an interview with Vice News that he had fired in self-defense.
Five days after the capturing, Portland police issued a warrant for Mr. Reinoehl’s arrest on suspicion of homicide. The Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force, whose native regulation enforcement officers had been deputized as federal marshals, traced Mr. Reinoehl’s path as much as Washington State and ready a plan to take him into custody.
The investigation by Thurston County investigators that was obtained by The Times supplied key new particulars, together with witness statements, from their monthslong inquiry into the occasions previous Mr. Reinoehl’s dying.
Officers believed that Mr. Reinoehl had a .380-caliber handgun, an AR-style rifle and a shotgun, based on the accounts they gave to investigators. They mentioned that they had acquired data — apparently from an informant — that Mr. Reinoehl had mentioned he wouldn’t be taken alive. Officers described their concern that Mr. Reinoehl was related to “antifa,” the free community of activists who’ve mobilized to confront far-right teams and protest regulation enforcement violence.
On Sept. 3, the officers took up surveillance positions close to the house the place Mr. Reinoehl was staying, based on their statements. Once on the scene, their chosen radio frequency solely labored for a couple of officers, leaving the others unable to speak.
Just earlier than 7 p.m., the crew watched as Mr. Reinoehl exited the house and headed towards his car. Sgt. Erik Clarkson of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, a senior officer on the scene, instructed the others “to let him drive if no one was close enough to interdict him,” however his command was not heard on account of the radio drawback, based on his assertion.
Officer Michael Merrill of the Lakewood Police Department determined to maneuver in, and gunned his Ford Escape towards Mr. Reinoehl’s parked Volkswagen Jetta.
No video has emerged to indicate what transpired subsequent, and a murky mixture of generally contradictory data has been used to clarify it. None of the officers wore a physique digicam, nor had been cameras mounted on their autos. One of the officers on the scene, a deputy U.S. marshal named Ryan Kimmel who didn’t hearth his weapon, declined to supply a press release through the investigation.
James Oleole, a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy within the passenger seat of Officer Merrill’s Ford Escape, mentioned that as regulation enforcement autos pulled up and officers introduced themselves, Mr. Reinoehl was within the driver’s seat of his Jetta and made strikes together with his arms “consistent with the moves that someone makes when they are attempting to grab a gun they have on their person.”
Although he didn’t see a gun, Deputy Oleole mentioned, he started firing his AR-15 rifle by way of his personal windshield at Mr. Reinoehl. Officer Merrill, pondering the glass shards from the windshield meant he was underneath hearth, exited the Ford Escape, noticed what he believed was Mr. Reinoehl reaching for a gun, and likewise opened hearth. A 3rd officer, additionally from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, had adopted the others in an S.U.V. and blocked Mr. Reinoehl’s Jetta from an angle. Also believing that Mr. Reinoehl was reaching for a gun, he opened hearth together with his 9-millimeter handgun.
As the officers unleashed a hail of bullets, a complete of 40 in all, Mr. Reinoehl exited the Jetta, shielding himself, and ran for canopy behind a truck parked behind him. The three officers reported that he was constantly reaching round his waistband or pocket. A Washington State Department of Corrections officer, who had arrived in a 3rd car, noticed Mr. Reinoehl around the rear of the truck and start to tug “a small dark item” from his pocket. That officer additionally fired, and Mr. Reinoehl fell.
Although no officer mentioned Mr. Reinoehl shot at them, and just one described him elevating one thing which may have been a gun, investigators concluded that Mr. Reinoehl had more than likely fired a shot — pointing to a spent shell casing they discovered within the again seat of the Jetta that matched the .380-caliber handgun present in his pocket.
Investigators by no means discovered a bullet matching it amid the handfuls sprayed across the scene, and all the gunshots that pierced the Jetta’s entrance windshield had been decided to be incoming rounds fired by officers. Lieutenant Simper of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office mentioned it was attainable that Mr. Reinoehl fired by way of an open passenger-side window.
The ultimate report additionally doesn’t tackle the truth that the handgun’s six-round clip was nonetheless full when officers recovered it. Lieutenant Simper mentioned it was attainable that Mr. Reinoehl had loaded an further spherical within the chamber earlier than firing and that the gun had malfunctioned and didn’t load a spherical from the clip after he took a shot.
To attain their conclusion that Mr. Reinoehl fired his gun, investigators additionally cited the accounts of three witnesses. One of them, Chad Smith, had initially instructed journalists that he noticed Mr. Reinoehl capturing at officers however later mentioned he didn’t see Mr. Reinoehl capturing. He reported to investigators that he believed that Mr. Reinoehl shot first as a result of the primary shot he heard sounded much less highly effective than later ones.
Another witness instructed investigators he believed there was an alternate of gunfire. The man, who requested to not be recognized publicly, mentioned in an interview on Friday that he couldn’t make certain Mr. Reinoehl had fired a weapon.
Mr. Louis’s 8-year-old son instructed officers that Mr. Reinoehl was capturing at the brokers. But when requested what sort of gun Mr. Reinoehl fired, he described it as “big” and “two-handed,” an outline that didn’t match Mr. Reinoehl’s pocket-size handgun.
Mr. Louis mentioned his kids had been taught that cops had been “heroes” however that the investigator who interviewed his son had phrased his questions in a method that prompted the boy to say that Mr. Reinoehl had fired his weapon.
“He initially told me for the first 24 hours that he didn’t know that guy had a weapon,” he mentioned.