A team of police officers trying to apprehend a Portland man suspected of killing a right-wing activist won't face criminal charges for shooting the man dead outside an apartment complex near Lacey last year, a prosecutor has decided.
In a 24-page memo released this week, Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney Jon Tunheim concluded that members of the U.S. Marshal's Pacific Northwest Violent Offenders Task Force were justified in using deadly force against fugitive Michael Reinoehl.
"In my view, Washington Law does not require officers to actually see a weapon when they have probable cause to believe a person is armed and a good faith belief the person is intending use deadly force against officers or others in an effort to escape capture," Tunheim wrote. "... I have concluded that their use of deadly force was justified under Washington State law. As such, no criminal charges will be filed against the involved officers by this office."
A lawyer for Reinoehl's family did not respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday.
Reinoehl, a 48-year-old left-wing activist who once described himself as "100 percent antifa," was on the run while facing a murder charge for allegedly shooting and killing Aaron "Jay" Danielson, a pro-Trump protester in Portland in late August 2020.
On Sept. 3, 2020, the federal task force assembled to arrest Reinoehl — made up of officers from the Pierce County Sheriff's Department, the Washington Department of Corrections, the Lakewood Police Department and the U.S. Marshals Service — converged on the Tanglewilde Townhomes Apartments near Lacey, where Reinoehl was believed to be staying with friends in a first-floor unit.
During a chaotic confrontation that erupted after Reinoehl emerged from the apartment and got into a silver Volkswagen Jetta, officers unloaded 40 rounds, at least five of which struck and killed Reinoehl.
The shooting became political fodder for then-President Donald Trump, who after Reinoehl's death declared in a Fox News interview: "There has to be retribution when you have a crime like this."
Trump's comments increased scrutiny of whether the task force officers had justly shot Reinoehl.
In April, a multiagency investigation into Reinoehl's shooting, headed by the Thurston County Sheriff's Office, concluded that Reinoehl likely fired first at the officers, based on witness and officer statements as well as a spent shell casing discovered in Reinoehl's vehicle.
But the investigation couldn't prove Reinoehl ever fired at the officers because investigators never found a bullet. His gun — the same .380-caliber handgun he allegedly used to kill Danielson — had a fully loaded clip, but no bullet in the chamber. Ballistics tests on the spent shell casing found in the Jetta didn't determine when it was fired.
In their official statements, none of the officers involved in the shooting reported seeing Reinoehl shooting at them during a close-proximity firefight that was over in three minutes.
They stated their decision to use lethal force was justified by Reinoehl's conduct, which included disobeying their verbal commands and repeatedly trying to reach into his right pants pocket, where a pistol was later found. They also later found a rifle in his car.
While agreeing in his memo the use of deadly force was justified, Tunheim wrote that "aspects of the planning and management" of the task force's operation "deserve additional comment and scrutiny."
Among other issues, Tunheim wrote the task force should have provided advance notice of its operation to local law enforcement agencies. He also questioned the team's tactical decision to carry out the operation despite ongoing radio communications breakdowns.
"Finally, I feel compelled to say how fortunate it was that no bystanders were injured or killed as a result of this confrontation," Tunheim wrote.
A child told investigators that he was hit by "sparks" from an officer's gunfire and stray bullets ripped into an apartment unit and struck four civilian vehicles, according to the investigation report.
"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," Tunheim wrote.