Just after 11:30 a.m. on Monday, August 22nd, an hour after one of its officers shot and mortally wounded 37-year-old Timothy Green near one of the city’s busiest intersections, the Olympia Police Department posted on Twitter that “officers had been treated at the scene for injuries.”
Just two days later, the official narrative changed. This news release, issued late Wednesday, confirmed that “the officers were not injured.”
OPD first reported the incident like this:
And later followed up with this:
And that was the end of OPD’s public discussion of the incident.
The news release contradicts OPD’s initial report regarding injuries to the officers and presents a one-sided police perspective on what happened. It does not, for example, contain any information gathered from witnesses, some of whom told local TV news reporters that they did not see the individual wield a knife. The release says two discharged tasers and a knife were recovered from the scene. It does not describe the knife.
“It’s kind of like they are setting up a framework to defend the officer’s action. That’s not their job,” said Leslie Cushman of Olympia, citizen sponsor of Initiative 940 and member of the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability. The news release “prejudices the public against the person who was killed,” she said.
The Capital Metro Independent Investigations Team, which issued the release, will not provide additional information, including the names of the officers involved until its investigation is complete, said Laura Wohl, spokesperson for the CMITT. She has declined several requests for the names over the past two days, citing state law and associated rules developed after the passage of Initiative 940 (regarding police use of deadly force) in 2018.
The news release says only that the officer who fired the shot was a three-year member of the department and was immediately placed on administrative leave.
“The case is an active investigation, and the investigators have not authorized the release of the name of the officer who fired the fatal shot and those of the other officers. Any records that contain that information are also not being released because they are categorically exempt from release,” Wohl said. She said the names would be made public when the CMITT report is complete. No timeline has been offered for when that might be.
“It feels like they are trying to hide behind the exemptions. I am totally surprised they won’t release the name. He’s not a witness; he’s not evidence … he is a person being investigated for an alleged crime because he killed someone…he should be on equal footing with other suspects,” Cushman said.
The CMITT’s refusal to release the names also appears to conflict with the city of Seattle’s interpretation of the law – it releases the names of officers involved in shootings. “I have never heard of withholding the names,” Cushman said. “This just hasn’t happened.”
Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock released the name of the victim Friday morning. The cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds to the chest.
Since 2015, police have killed 208 people in Washington state, according to a database that is updated daily by The Washington Post; it includes the Monday shooting death in Olympia. Nationwide, the number is more than 5,000.
The CMITT is made up of detectives from the cities of Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater, and Yelm police departments. It is activated in situations such as this one, but without participation from the department whose officer was involved “to allow for an independent investigation.”
Cushman questions whether the investigation is independent and said the Office of Independent Investigations, created by the Legislature in 2021 and supposed to be up and running July 1, will take use-of-force investigations out of the hands of law enforcement officers. That Office still is getting organized and hiring staff after the appointment of its director in June.
An incident such as what occurred Monday “would immediately go to the state office,” Cushman said. “Olympia police would have secured the scene, and the state team would come in. No local police would be involved at all … it is designed to inoculate against all the conflicts of interest that could be present.”
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting the day after the shooting, Mayor Cheryl Selby reiterated that no city staff or council member would talk publicly about the situation or the investigation. The purpose of this is to maintain the independence of the involved agency from the investigation team.
Council Member Clark Gilman, however, made brief remarks about the gravity of the situation.
“I want to acknowledge the loss of life. We can talk about what we can or can’t say, but over the top of that is the heartbreak of the loss of a life yesterday,” Gilman said.
Public comment on the shooting was pointed but surprisingly scant at the council meeting.
“To hold a truly independent investigation would mean that police don’t investigate other police officers. We all know how that goes. It does not build trust,” said Talauna Reed, who asked the council to find an alternative to the CMITT.
Council members Dontae Payne and Lisa Parshley acknowledged her concerns but said any changes in the law would need to come from the Legislature. “The state needs to go further,” Parshley said. “We continue to work hard on figuring out a more just and humane criminal justice system … it is really colored by this terrible incident yesterday.
In addition to creating the statewide Office of Investigations, the 2021 Legislature passed House Bill 1310, which put in place requirements for use of physical force and deadly force. The new law establishes that officers must use the least amount of physical force necessary to overcome resistance and requires law enforcement to consider the person’s behavioral and mental disabilities. It also requires officers to use appropriate de-escalation tactics and defines this to include tactical repositioning to maintain the benefit of time, distance, and cover. It also includes calling for backup and using available support resources such as crisis responders.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Parshley said the city’s new Social Justice and Equity Commission’s work plan includes a look at how to provide community oversight when incidents involving police occur. The city of Seattle, for example, has three civilian oversight boards engaged with its police department in various ways, including in investigations.
Ironically, the council also heard Tuesday from the city’s police auditor, who the city contracts with to “increase public trust and confidence in the Police Department by providing an independent review and audit of the Police Department’s uses of force and its internal investigations regarding complaints against the Olympia Police Department or its employees.” She presented her mid-year report, which reviewed 37 incidents and found “all of those matters were audited and found to be thorough, objective, free of bias, and consistent with OPD policies.” None of those incidents resulted in a serious injury or death, the report said.
The incident comes just two months into the leadership of the city’s new police chief, Rich Allen, appointed to the position by Olympia City Manager Jay Burney after a failed, more-than-two-year nationwide search that cost the city thousands of dollars. Allen has been with the department for more than 30 years.
He leads the department at a time of much change. Later this year, officers will begin wearing body cameras; in-car video cameras are coming to OPD in 2023.
The department’s policies and procedures, and actions also are under scrutiny by two entities. The City Council’s Community Livability and Public Safety Committee and the Social Justice and Equity Commission, composed of city residents, are looking at issues of race, ethnicity, challenges presented by mental and physical health care needs, discrimination, diversity, policing, criminal justice, and a host of other long-simmering community concerns about inequality that boiled over during sometimes violent demonstrations in 2020 and 2021
In October, a community work group is to make recommendations to the Council on how to ensure the city’s public safety system is “based on trust, justice, and equity and without bias.” The Commission still is gearing up to do its work to “eliminate racism and fulfill human rights for a just and equitable Olympia for all people.” The Commission will work to identify, respond to, and ultimately reduce discrimination and human rights violations occurring within the city.”
The Olympia Police Department and City Leaders are failing to realize that their trust is non existence. The only thing they ever do is deny wrong doing. Another Black man lost his life at the hands of trigger happy cops. Multiple gun shot wounds, this is gar neyond excessive force. This is a public execution by a unaccountable cops. Twisting the law is just that and so is murder. Black Lives Matter