OLYMPIA, Wash. — A police officer who shot and injured two men he says repeatedly threatened him during a late night encounter on a dark street was justified in the shooting, and the men have been charged with assault, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
At a news conference, Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim said Officer Ryan Donald "had an actual, good faith fear that he was being assaulted and that he could suffer serious injury as a result of that assault" during the May 21 encounter in Olympia, Washington.
"I don't find any evidence at all that he had a malicious intent or an unlawful intent at the time that he used this force," he said.
Tunheim's decision to not seek criminal charges against the officer comes after the completion of an investigation of the shooting conducted by a team of detectives from several agencies. Donald has been on administrative leave since the shooting that injured Bryson Chaplin, 21, and Andre Thompson, 24.
"But for the hostile acts of Mr. Chaplin and Mr. Thompson, these shootings would not have occurred," Tunheim said.
The men will appear in court Sept. 22. Chaplin has been charged with two counts of felony assault against Donald, and one count of misdemeanor assault against a Safeway clerk he is accused of throwing beer at. Thompson has been charged with two counts of felony assault against Donald.
The men's attorney, David Beninger, has previously said Chaplin is currently paralyzed from the waist down. Beninger did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment about the charges against his clients.
Donald, who is white, encountered the two men, brothers who are both black, after being called in on a report of an attempt to steal beer from a grocery store by two men carrying skateboards. Police officials have said race was not a factor, but the shooting set off a series of protests in Olympia, the state capital.
Saxon Rodgers, an attorney for Donald, said his client was elated by the news, but he's upset that he's been portrayed as a racist.
"He shot these people because they attacked him," Rodgers said.
In a written statement offered to investigators, Donald said that one of the men, who was later identified as Chaplin, repeatedly used his skateboard in a threatening manner after Donald encountered the two men after he responded to the area after the Safeway clerk called 911. After an initial round of shots near his patrol car in which he said one of the men tried to pull him down, he later approached the men again, at which point he said they repeatedly ignored his commands to stop as they approached him, with one again holding a skateboard above his head.
"Due to the suspect's quick actions, I was unable to back away, and felt my drawn firearm to be the only reasonably effective use of force to stop the threat, knowing the skateboard has the potential to cause serious injury at the least," he wrote.
After Chaplin was on the ground, Donald wrote that Thompson also aggressively approached him and wouldn't stop, causing him to again fire.
Donald will remain on administrative leave while Olympia Police Department conducts an internal review, officials said.
Nat Jackson, a concerned citizen who spoke to media outside after the news conference, said that while he supports law enforcement, he has questions about how this shooting happened.
"I have a very difficult time understanding how this could become this kind of case," he said. "My sense of justice in this case hasn't been met."