Officer takes Fifth in Pete trial
Suspended Spokane police Officer James “Jay” Olsen has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the trial of Shonto Pete, the man Olsen accused of taking his truck before Olsen shot him in the head in a violent chase through Peaceful Valley in the early hours of Feb. 26.
Olsen, with the attorney representing him in his upcoming trial for first-degree assault and reckless endangerment in the same incident, was allowed to take the Fifth outside the presence of a Spokane County Superior Court jury Thursday – drawing the line at any questions involving the off-duty officer’s pursuit of Pete down a steep embankment and into the sleeping Peaceful Valley neighborhood.
Spokane County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Douglas R. Hughes asked Olsen a number of questions that he refused to answer: Did he shoot Pete in the head? Did he continue to fire on Pete while the injured man knocked on a door seeking help? Did he try to hide evidence when on-duty police responded to a 911 call reporting gunshots? Did he give false statements to any law officers?
Olsen’s attorney, Rob Cossey, also wouldn’t let Olsen answer Hughes’ question about what Olsen did after he jumped a fence and pursued Pete down the hill off Riverside Avenue.
“We have a Catch-22 here. Where he went over the fence is crucial to my case,” Cossey told Spokane Superior Court Judge James Leveque, the presiding judge in Pete’s trial, which began Thursday morning.
David Partovi, Pete’s attorney, angrily objected to the broad exclusion of Olsen’s testimony allowed by Leveque, calling it “crap” and saying it jeopardized his client’s right to a fair trial.
“This isn’t his trial,” Partovi said, referring to Olsen. “This is Mr. Pete’s trial, and Mr. Pete has a right to a fair trial. … The main witness is picking and choosing what he can testify to,” Partovi said. Partovi moved – unsuccessfully – to throw out all of Olsen’s testimony.
Leveque ruled Olsen wouldn’t be required to restate his Fifth Amendment rights in front of the jury later Thursday, when he testified.
In his testimony, Olsen said he and his close friend, Renee Main, left Dempseys Brass Rail, where they had been drinking, at closing in the early hours of Feb. 26 and sat in her car behind his parked truck to talk. He fell asleep and was awakened by a “nearly hysterical” Main, who told him she’d started his truck to warm it up and it was being stolen. Olsen identified Pete as the person who drove his truck away. He didn’t say he shot at Pete in the ensuing chase.
On cross-examination by Partovi, Olsen testified he has been laid off from his 16-year job as a Spokane police officer since April, carried a semiautomatic gun with hollow-point bullets while drinking in the bar and didn’t try to call either police dispatch or 911 at any time during the incident. Instead, he said he called his police guild representative and his lawyer.
“Are you currently charged with first-degree assault arising from this incident?” Partovi asked Olsen.
“Yes I am,” Olsen replied.
In opening arguments, prosecutor Hughes told the jury that Shonto Pete was “cold, alone, he had too much to drink and was looking for a ride,” and decided to take Olsen’s truck when he couldn’t convince friends to pick him up after the bars had closed. While no DNA, fingerprints or fibers identifying Pete were found inside Olsen’s truck, one fingerprint from Pete’s left hand was found on the door of the vehicle “consistent with a person who opened the door,” Hughes said.
Pete “found a running automobile right across from where he was looking for a ride,” Hughes said.
The reason government investigators found no incriminating evidence against Pete inside Olsen’s truck is simple, Partovi said in his opening statement – Pete was never in the car.
Pete “was getting wasted” in a downtown bar while Olsen and Main were finishing their night at Dempseys and returning to her car. Pete couldn’t get a ride home with friends or his wife – with whom he’d fought earlier in the evening – saw Olsen’s truck idling, and opened the door in an effort to ask for a ride. When he saw nobody inside, he approached Olsen and Main in her car, asking them for a ride. Olsen swore at Pete, and Pete replied in kind, Partovi said.
“What happened next changed the lives of two men forever. Only one is to blame,” said Partovi, adding that Olsen chose to chase Pete and shoot him in the head.
“This story was fabricated to cover up an attempted murder,” Partovi told the jury.
After the shooting incident in February, Olsen was arrested on a felony charge of first-degree assault and two misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment for firing at least four shots from his personal .40-caliber handgun at Pete. One bullet hit Pete’s skull; another penetrated a Peaceful Valley home. Olsen, who pleaded not guilty to the charges in May, remains on unpaid leave from his Spokane Police Department job.
Pete’s trial on a second-degree charge of taking a motor vehicle without permission resumes Monday.