Shonto Pete, shot in the head in a dispute with an off-duty police officer, was found not guilty by a Spokane County Superior Court jury of stealing the truck of Spokane police Officer James “Jay” Olsen.
Following Wednesday’s verdict, a smiling Pete hugged his lawyer, David Partovi, and described his reaction as “complete happiness.” He said prosecutors had offered him a plea deal for third-degree theft, but he wouldn’t take it because he was innocent.
“My lawyer told me that just proves that they didn’t have a case. He told me, ‘Don’t worry. Just tell the truth.’ “
Asked if he is considering a civil action against the city over his shooting, Pete said he and Partovi will be discussing that.
“The jury was very thoughtful. The system worked,” said Douglas R. Hughes, the Spokane County deputy prosecutor who tried the case.
Two jurors who agreed to talk said they reached unanimity Wednesday afternoon after some disagreements earlier.
“There wasn’t enough evidence to indicate he did it, beyond a shadow of a doubt,” said Derek W. Freeman, a Delta Airlines pilot based in Spokane. “There just wasn’t anything that put him in that truck.”
There seemed to be a “lot missing” from Olsen’s testimony, said juror Judy C. Bush. The jury wasn’t told Olsen had refused to testify about his shooting of Pete in Peaceful Valley, citing his Fifth Amendment rights. Bush said the jury focused instead on testimony by Pete and Olsen’s friend Renee Main – concluding they had too many doubts about the state’s case.
The confrontation between Pete and Olsen began in the early hours of Feb. 26 after the bars in Spokane had closed and Pete was seeking a ride home. It ended with Pete being shot in the head by Olsen, who was carrying a concealed weapon as he ended his own evening of drinking at a downtown bar. Both men were legally drunk at the time.
Both men faced charges from the same incident – Pete for taking Olsen’s truck and Olsen for shooting Pete and discharging his gun in a residential area. Pete’s trial was the first; Olsen, who is on unpaid administrative leave from the Police Department, will be tried on first-degree assault and reckless endangerment charges on Dec. 5. Pete will be a key witness.
There were several elements in Pete’s trial that proved difficult for the state’s case, including the credibility of Olsen and Main, who had been drinking and then talking in Main’s car when the incident began. They identified Pete as the person who took Olsen’s truck.
According to Spokane Police Department Officer Aaron Ames, one of the officers responding that night, Main first said, “I don’t think so” when asked whether she’d heard gunshots and then said, “I think I may have heard one.”
Main said the man who took Olsen’s truck was wearing a baseball cap and a dark jogging suit with white stripes. But surveillance video from the Davenport Hotel, where Pete made a call to his wife seeking a ride home around 3:30 a.m., shows a hatless Pete in a dark coat and jeans. Hughes called these “small details,” while Partovi hammered on the inconsistencies.
Spokane police Sgt. Joel P. Fertakis testified that he stopped Main in Olsen’s truck in Peaceful Valley and observed a man in a red jacket walking east on the other side of Main who gave him a “sideways glance.” The stop of Olsen’s truck was at 3:51 a.m. – eight minutes after Pete had called 911 reporting he’d been shot, police records show.
Because they couldn’t reach Olsen through police dispatch, the responding officers were concerned for Olsen’s safety and went to look for him on the hillside above Peaceful Valley, Fertakis said.
When he encountered Olsen later that night at his truck wearing jeans and a red jacket, “it immediately hit me the individual who walked past me was Officer Olsen,” Fertakis told the jury.
Olsen said he made two calls that night – to his police guild representative and his lawyer – and didn’t call either 911 or police dispatch after his truck was allegedly stolen by Pete. Olsen was given his Miranda warnings on Feb. 26 and interviewed two days later with his lawyer present.
Pete was interviewed in the intensive care unit of Sacred Heart Medical Center with no lawyer, three hours after the shooting. He was still drunk, suffering from a concussion, and had been given morphine for pain control while doctors extracted the bullet. Spokane County Sheriff’s Office Detective Douglas C. Marske and Spokane Police Department Detective Chet Gilmore defended their interview of Pete.
“You want to get rolling right away,” Gilmore said under questioning by Hughes. But under cross-examination, Gilmore admitted a statement from a victim of a violent crime is generally more coherent when they aren’t under the influence of narcotics.
When Pete took the witness stand, he said he was surprised the detectives were asking so many questions about the truck because he assumed they were there to investigate who had shot him. Pete said he wasn’t told until the end of the police interviews that the man who shot him was a police officer.
“I said, ‘You guys are looking after him – that’s why you’re trying to get me to say something,’ ” Pete said.
Partovi told jurors Olsen got his truck and cell phone back after the incident, while Pete still hasn’t had his clothes or cell phone returned.
Spotty physical evidence
While investigators detected one fingerprint from Pete’s left hand on the door of Olsen’s truck, they had no DNA, fingerprints or fiber evidence to show Pete was inside.
Hughes said that was common in modern cars because of the rough plastic surfaces. Partovi said the state hadn’t met its burden of proof for a simple reason: Pete was never in the truck.
Pete gave an entirely different story of what happened in the early morning of Feb. 26 – denying he took Olsen’s truck and telling a riveting tale of being chased by a truck driven by an unknown assailant. He said he tried to evade the truck, but it caught up to him just before he jumped over a fence above Peaceful Valley and headed down to the river.
Pete said Olsen stopped at the top of the hill and tried to talk him into climbing back up for a talk.
“I said, ‘No, that’s all right.’ As soon as I turned, he shot me,” Pete said. The bullet entered the left side of his skull from the back. Pete said Olsen continued to shoot as he ran down the hill. At the third house Pete approached, neighbors let him in and called 911. Pete’s call saying he’d been shot came in at 3:43 a.m.
Under cross-examination by Hughes, Pete said he ran away from Olsen “to avoid the conflict.”
“It was important you had a chance to evaluate Mr. Pete,” Partovi told the jury in his closing statement. “He’s not cross-examinable because he’s telling the truth.”