Gay officer was off duty, had been drinking when he shot man he said stole his truck; injured man said officer chased him down for no reason
SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane Police Department will investigate the conduct of suspended Officer Jay Olsen amid public outrage after a jury acquitted him of shooting a man in the head and firing four other bullets in a residential neighborhood during a drunken chase.
The internal affairs probe of the case, which has racist and anti-gay elements, will take several weeks, city spokeswoman Marlene Feist said.
Olsen was acquitted March 13 by a Spokane County Superior Court jury of first-degree assault and reckless endangerment.
He was charged after an incident in the early morning of Feb. 26, 2007, when he chased Shonto Pete through downtown Spokane and shot him in the head. Olsen was off duty and had been drinking. Pete, 29, a Native American, recovered from his wound.
Olsen’s lawyer, Rob Cossey, told The Spokesman-Review it was unlikely Olsen would rejoin the police force because he had violated department policies, including getting drunk while carrying a concealed weapon in a bar and failing to call for backup.
The final decision is up to Spokane police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick.
City taxpayers must pay about $153,000 for Olsen’s back wages, estimated overtime and deferred compensation. State taxpayers must pay Olsen’s legal bills because the jury determined the off-duty officer acted in self-defense.
Pete has also filed a $750,000 legal claim against the city, and a federal civil rights claim against Olsen, seeking unspecified damages. On Monday, March 16, he asked City Council members to pay medical bills related to the shooting.
Pete assailed the verdict. "Apparently you can shoot someone in the head and get away with it. You can act as reckless as you want if you’re a cop," he said.
Some Spokane human rights leaders were troubled by the verdict.
"Justice should be healing, but this verdict raises more questions than it answers," said Raymond Reyes, associate vice president for intercultural relations at Gonzaga University.
Spokane’s Native American community will organize a forum next week to discuss the verdict, said Sharon Ortiz, an organizer of the Spokane Falls powwow.
Pete testified that Olsen swore at him when he asked for a ride home after the bars closed and began to follow him in a truck after Pete ran away. Both men were drunk, according to court testimony.
Olsen and his friend Renee Main, who’d been drinking with Olsen at a downtown bar, said Pete stole Olsen’s truck and that they gave chase in her car. In fact, a Spokane jury had earlier acquitted Pete of the theft charge.
Cossey refused to let police detectives interview Olsen the night of the shooting because Olsen was drunk. Olsen wasn’t interviewed until two days later. Shortly after he’d shot Pete, Olsen called Main, his attorney and a police guild representative.
He did not call 911, police dispatch, or any responding police officers.
Olsen testified that he avoided the first officer to respond, Sgt. Joel Fertakis, because Fertakis had given him lukewarm performance reviews and had made anti-gay remarks.
Olsen testified that he was a closeted gay man who feared retaliation in a police department hostile to LGBT people.
Pete criticized Olsen’s "gay card," calling it pathetic. "I could care less if he’s gay. He still shouldn’t be able to shoot people in the head," Pete said.
Information from: The Spokesman-Review, www.spokesman.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 20, 2009.