Shonto Pete, the man shot in the head last February by an off-duty Spokane cop, took the stand Tuesday in his trial for second-degree auto theft – denying he stole a truck owned by Spokane police Officer James “Jay” Olsen in the early hours of Feb. 26.
Olsen, who has been suspended from the police force, faces an upcoming trial for first-degree assault and reckless endangerment in the same incident. Both men were legally drunk at the time of their confrontation.
Under questioning by defense attorney David R. Partovi, Pete said he’d been trying to get a ride home that winter night after the bars closed. He said he’d gotten drunk and quarreled with his wife, Vanessa, earlier in the evening, and she refused to drive back downtown from their Garland District home to pick him up. Pete said he started walking west toward a gas station, thinking he might hitch a ride home there or proceed to a friend’s house at Seventh and Ash.
Pete said he saw an idling truck, but saw no occupants when he looked inside. He then noticed two people parked in a car right behind the truck – and learned later the occupants were Olsen and a friend, Renee Main, who were talking in her car after the bars had closed while Olsen’s truck was idling.
Pete said he approached them, asking for a ride. Olsen refused and swore at him, and he swore back, Pete told the jury. He said he walked away but soon noticed Olsen’s truck was slowly following him.
“It kept following, so I took off running,” Pete said. He said he dodged back and forth between streets to try to evade his pursuers. “They found me right before I took off down Peaceful Valley,” he said. “I couldn’t figure it out – why were these guys chasing me?” he said.
After he jumped a fence and headed down into Peaceful Valley, Pete said, Olsen stood at the top of the hill and tried to persuade him to come back up.
“I said ‘no, that’s all right.’ As soon as I turned, he shot me,” Pete said.
Pete said he yelled back at Olsen, saying “You shot me in the head. … I have a wife and son. He said, ‘you’d better run or I’m going to kill you.’ I got up and I ran. … He shot at me again, four more times.”
Pete related how he ran from house to house in the neighborhood, and how he got help at the third house he approached, where neighbors let him in and called 911. “It took courage to open up the door,” Pete said, noting that he and a brother later brought gifts to the people who’d helped him.
In earlier testimony, the defense has hammered on the state’s lack of DNA, fingerprint or fiber evidence putting Pete inside Olsen’s truck. Prosecutor Douglas R. Hughes has presented evidence of one fingerprint from Pete found on the outside of Olsen’s truck door and has called Olsen and Main, who have both said Pete took Olsen’s truck.
Olsen has refused to testify about the shooting in Peaceful Valley, citing his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
Closing arguments in the high-profile case were heard Tuesday afternoon in the courtroom of Spokane County Superior Court Judge Jerome J. Leveque.
Pete took Olsen’s pickup because he was “cold, alone, he’d had way too much to drink and was looking for a ride,” said Hughes, insisting the state had met its burden of proof during the trial, including discovery of the one fingerprint on the outside of Olsen’s truck.
“The state submits it was there because he got in the car and drove away,” Hughes said.
Partovi said the single most important piece of evidence presented during the trial was that the passenger seat in Main’s car was still in the reclined position the next day. That’s the car that Olsen and Main said they were sitting in – with Main in the driver’s seat – when they said Pete took Olsen’s truck. Olsen testified during the trial that he instructed a “nearly hysterical” Main to slowly follow Pete in her car through downtown Spokane.
“Is it credible he was in that reclined seat?” Partovi asked the jury. “The reason the seat was still down is that Officer Olsen got in his car and followed Shonto Pete,” Partovi said.
The lawyers also clashed more broadly on whether the prosecution of Pete has been fair.
In his closing arguments, Partovi assailed the state’s case, accusing Spokane Police Department and Spokane County Sheriff’s Office detectives of “disparate treatment” of Pete and Olsen and bias towards Pete as they tried to unravel the Feb. 26 confrontation.
While Olsen called his lawyer the night of the shooting and was formally interviewed with his lawyer at his side, the police investigators went to Sacred Heart Medical Center to question Pete without a lawyer present only hours after he’d been shot.
Pete was still under the influence of alcohol from his night of drinking, had been given morphine before the bullet was extracted and was still suffering trauma from being shot in the head when he was interviewed, Partovi said, adding that the detectives didn’t tell Pete until the end of their interviews that Olsen was a police officer.
“We are here despite a lack of DNA and fingerprints and gross bias in the testimony of Jay Olsen and Renee Main. … There is overwhelming evidence of his (Pete’s) innocence,” Partovi told the jury.
Hughes, in rebuttal, said prosecutors haven’t shown bias and Olsen has been charged with a Class A felony as a result of shooting Pete and firing bullets in Peaceful Valley as neighbors slept.
The investigators “tried to get at the truth of what happened,” Hughes added.
The case went to the jury shortly before 3 p.m. on Tuesday.