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Pete testifies in Olsen trial

Shonto Pete holds a pointer and stands in front of a large aerial photo of downtown Spokane on Monday, March 2, 2009, in the trial of suspended Spokane police Officer Jay Olsen. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
Shonto Pete holds a pointer and stands in front of a large aerial photo of downtown Spokane on Monday, March 2, 2009, in the trial of suspended Spokane police Officer Jay Olsen. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)

All he’d wanted was a ride home. But he ended up getting shot in the head by a mysterious pursuer, Shonto Pete told a Spokane jury Monday in the opening day of testimony in the trial of suspended Spokane police officer Jay Olsen.

Olsen is charged with first-degree assault and reckless endangerment, accused of shooting Pete and firing a volley of bullets in a sleeping Peaceful Valley neighborhood in the early hours of Feb. 26, 2007. Both men were drunk at the time and Olsen was off duty, court documents show.

Pete, under questioning by Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz, said he approached Olsen and his friend Renee Main to ask for a ride after the bars closed downtown. Pete said the two were sitting in Main’s vehicle while Olsen’s unoccupied truck idled in front of them on the cold winter night.

Olsen swore at Pete, telling him to get lost, and Pete said he swore back.

Pete said he walked away, but soon noticed Olsen was following him in the truck.

He began to run. The truck kept pace, slightly behind him. Panicked, he jumped over a guardrail on West Riverside and headed down over the bluff into Peaceful Valley.

“I turned around to see why this guy was chasing me … I asked, ‘what do you want?’ Pete said. “He kept saying, ‘I just want to talk to you.’”

Pete said he didn’t know Olsen was a police officer — but he didn’t trust him and decided to keep running away after briefly turning around to look uphill where Olsen was standing.

“When I turned around, I got shot,” he added.

When the bullet struck, Pete said he collapsed and at first didn’t know if he was still alive. But he opened his eyes and saw the dim lights in Peaceful Valley.

“As I was laying there, I said, ‘you shot me in the head. I have a wife and son.’ After I said that, he said ‘you’d better run, I’m going to kill you.’

I decided to run. If I didn’t run, I believe I would have been shot dead right there,” Pete said.

He told the jury how he frantically ran from house to house looking for someone who’d let him in. Finally, a couple opened their door and called 911.

In his opening statement, Olsen’s attorney Rob Cossey said Olsen acted in self-defense and urged the jury to keep an open mind.

In cross-examination, Cossey tried to poke holes in Pete’s story, contrasting what he’d told detectives at the hospital the night he was shot with what he’s saying now.

Prior to opening statements, in motions without the jury present, Cossey asked Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque not to allow Steinmetz to tell jurors that Olsen called an attorney the night of the shooting — not 911 or police dispatch.

“It’s his right to seek counsel – it’s improper for the jury to hear that my client during the incident attempted to contact an attorney friend,” Cossey argued.

Steinmetz disagreed.

“It’s a fact he called a lawyer, his union representative and the person he’d been out drinking with. It’s not a comment on his right to have a lawyer,” Steinmetz said.

In a split ruling, Leveque said the jury shouldn’t hear the word “attorney” but allowed the attorney’s name — Melvin Champagne — to be mentioned.

Olsen’s brother, Sgt. Eric Olsen of the Spokane Police Department’s traffic team, was in the courtroom Monday, as was Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker.

So was Pete’s mother, Diana Cote. In October 2007, she was present when a Spokane jury acquitted Pete of charges that he’d stolen Olsen’s truck the night of the shooting.

Contact Karen Dorn Steele at (509) 459-5462 or karend@spokesman.com.

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