They Told the City It Would Happen. And It Did.

“We warned all of them that someone was going to get shot, that someone was going to get hurt,”

Malika Lamont

Saturday’s shooting, and the assault of a pastor – fueled by a right-wing protester’s reaction to a Black Lives Matter sign – were no surprise to Black leaders.

“We warned all of them that someone was going to get shot, that someone was going to get hurt,” said local activist Malika Lamont of attempts to convince the city of Olympia that allowing armed militias and individuals on the city’s streets would lead to the unfettered violence that erupted Saturday in a churchyard and streets adjacent to the state Capitol Campus.

Lamont chairs the Thurston Asset Building Coalition (TABC) steering committee. The Coalition works to overcome the causes of inequity and to support equitable opportunities for people of color and those experiencing economic insecurity. TABC, along with Black Leaders in Action & Solidarity Thurston (BLAST), wrote to and met with city officials and others to express their concerns and called for reforms to law enforcement. BLAST came together as an organization in the last year to “use its collective force to dismantle systemic racism in Thurston County.”

Police response to Saturday’s incident only widened the wounds felt by people of color who criticize the city for not taking those concerns seriously and has raised questions about disparities in how groups of protestors are treated (story in tomorrow’s edition of the Tribune).

Also emerging are myriad questions about why law enforcement did not intervene to stop the brutality on and near the normally quiet grounds of United Churches, a faith community near the state Capitol that’s well known for its commitment to social justice.

The pastor of the church was assaulted, and one person grazed by a gunshot, by attendees of a rally billed as a “peaceful, respectful” Re-Open WA event for people who oppose Gov. Jay Inslee’s pandemic-related restrictions on businesses. 

Instead, attendees brandished firearms, sprayed bear mace, fired paintball rounds, and beat counter-protesters with flagpoles and their fists and feet. 

Police were not present, despite the fact that people were brawling on the streets when Pastor Tammy Stampfli arrived at 12:30 p.m., “I looked up the street, I looked down the street,” and saw no law enforcement officers. She was assaulted by someone who took issue with a Black Lives Matter sign in the church parking lot.

But at 1:45 p.m., Olympia police were staged blocks away near City Hall at Fifth Avenue and Cherry Street to head off protestors, who had dwindled to about 50 by then – a mixture of folks wearing Trump, Culp, and “patriotic” attire and those described as “Antifa counter-protesters, dressed in all black, wearing helmets and carrying shields,” according to police reports.

Among them was the suspected shooter, who officers identified after seeing screenshots of a video of the near-riot. 

Detectives found Christopher M. Guenzler in possession of a firearm and a can of pepper spray. He described his version of events to the officers: hitting someone in the head with his gun and pointing his firearm at counter-protestors.

After they saw a video showing Guenzler drawing his firearm and a blast from the muzzle “consistent with a handgun firing a live round of ammunition” officers continued the questioning, Guenzler ended the interview and police arrested him. They seized a 9mm handgun, a holster, a magazine, a megaphone, a flagpole with two flags, and his clothes as evidence and later found a spent casing at the scene of the shooting. 

Guenzler is in the Thurston County jail on $50,000 bail on assault charges. The judge banned him from possessing a firearm and from living in anyplace where he has access to one. His arraignment is set for Dec. 22. 

The individual who was shot has declined to meet with police. 

Regarding staffing decisions, the city declined to respond to specific questions but has said the incident caught them by surprise. Pressed for further details, the city offered none.

“I don’t really have anything to add beyond the information we already put out (in a news release) about the incident this weekend,” city spokeswoman Kellie Braseth said Tuesday, adding that police are reviewing reports and videos of what happened, which could result in further arrests and charges.  

A source told The Tribune the city is blaming its lack of preparation on the State Patrol. According to the source, the city relies on the Patrol to give it information on when armed militia groups will be coming to the city, what time, and where they will be. The source said police say they had no information from the Patrol on Saturday’s rally. The city declined to answer a question about whether that is the Police Department’s official position.

“From WSP’s perspective, there is no rift in communication or tension with OPD,” said Patrol spokesman Chris Loftis. He said the Patrol, the state Department of Enterprise Services, Olympia Police Department and Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, and federal law enforcement agencies monitor groups and gatherings to assess risk factors and prepare based on the best information available. This past Saturday was no different, and the patrol had no information to indicate “pre-deployment” was needed, Loftis said.  

Questions about inaction on the part of the Patrol have arisen as well. 

Loftis said what began as a confrontation just across the street from Patrol headquarters very quickly escalated into conflict. He said city, county, and state law enforcement officers were mobilizing just before the shooting occurred and the crowd began to disperse.

He commended Olympia police for “their response, courage, and professionalism in an evolving situation” and said the Patrol will keep working to improve its predictions, response, and coordination with other agencies. 

“Saturday’s events show us that in some quarters, tensions are escalating, dispositions are hardening, civility is waning, and peace is becoming more difficult to maintain.  We will do what we can to reverse those first three trends by showing respect, dignity, and firm resolve to all and in all situations.  And in regard to the last, WSP will, with calm resolve, do whatever is necessary to maintain the peace and safety of all,” Loftis said. 

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By Mindy Chambers

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