Hundreds marched peacefully in Washington's state capital late Thursday to protest a police shooting that wounded two unarmed stepbrothers suspected of trying to steal beer from a grocery store.
The officer reported he was being assaulted with a skateboard early Thursday before the shooting that left a 21-year-old man in critical condition and a 24-year-old man in stable condition. Both were expected to survive.
The stepbrothers are black, and the officer is white, but Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts said, “There's no indication to me that race was a factor in this case at all.”
Protesters who turned out Thursday evening disagreed, holding signs that read: “Race is a Factor” and “We Are Grieving.”
The shooting follows a string of high-profile killings of unarmed black men by police, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City, which set off weeks of protests and a national “Black Lives Matter” movement that has gained momentum across the country.
The two men were identified as Andre Thompson, 24, and Bryson Chaplin, 21, both of Olympia.
“It was terrible,” the young men's mother, Crystal Chaplin, told KIRO-TV. “It's heartbreaking to see two of my babies in the hospital over something stupid.”
The shooting is being investigated by a team of detectives from several agencies. Brad Watkins, chief deputy of the Thurston County Sheriff's Department, said two skateboards were recovered from the shooting scene and an investigation will likely take three to six weeks. The young men had no guns, investigators said.
The crowd of demonstrators rallied first at a park, then marched about a mile to a building that houses the Olympia police headquarters and City Hall. Protesters chanted “Black Lives Matter,” “No Justice, No Peace,” and the names of the young men who were shot.
Olympia police tweeted its thanks to marchers “for keeping the event nonviolent.”
“We are committed to helping our community work through this difficult circumstance and help us understand this tragic event,” the police chief told a news conference Thursday afternoon.
Officer Ryan Donald was among those who responded in the early hours of Thursday to a call from a Safeway store, Roberts said. Employees said two men tried to steal beer and then threw the alcohol at workers who confronted the pair.
Officers split up to search for the men. Donald encountered two men with skateboards who fitted witnesses' descriptions, and moments later, he radioed in that shots had been fired, the police chief said.
Donald, 35, who is on administrative leave pending the investigation, has been with the department for just over three years. No residents have filed complaints against him, and he was recently recognized by the agency for being proactive on investigations, Roberts said. He worked previously as an Army police officer, the chief said.
Olympia Mayor Stephen H. Buxbaum called for calm in the community.
“It deeply saddens me that we have two young people in the hospital as a result of an altercation with an officer of the law,” he said. “Let's come together to support their needs, the officer's needs, the needs of the families and our community's needs. Let's not be reactive.”