March 3, 2009 in City

Shot man takes stand as officer’s trial opens

Olsen charged with assault, endangerment
Staff writer
 
CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON photo

Shonto Pete takes the witness stand Monday in the trial of Spokane police Officer Jay Olsen, at right.
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All he 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 Peaceful Valley in the early hours of Feb. 26, 2007. Both men were drunk at the time, court documents show, and Olsen was off duty.

Pete, under questioning by Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz, said he approached Olsen and Olsen’s 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 night.

Pete said Olsen swore at him, telling him to get lost, and Pete 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 said, he jumped over a guardrail on West Riverside Avenue and headed down the hillside 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. He didn’t trust him and decided to keep running after turning around to look uphill where Olsen was standing.

“When I turned around, I got shot,” he said, pointing to the left side of his head.

When the bullet struck, Pete said, he collapsed. He opened his eyes and saw 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 he frantically ran from house to house looking for someone who would 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 contrasted what Pete told detectives at the hospital the night he was shot with what he said in the courtroom Monday. Cossey said Pete didn’t tell the deputies who first interviewed him about Olsen’s threat to kill him and suggested he embellished his story later.

“Would you agree there were a lot of facts that changed between your first and your second statement?” Cossey asked.

Pete retorted that Olsen wasn’t interviewed until two days after the incident, when he was no longer drunk. He also had his lawyer by his side.

“I wish I had the same opportunity that Olsen got. I wish I could have had a day or two to get my head clear – like they did for him,” Pete said.

Other testimony Monday afternoon came from the police officers who investigated the shooting.

Spokane police Sgt. Joel Fertakis, the graveyard-shift supervisor the night of the shooting, said he stopped Main as she entered Peaceful Valley in Olsen’s truck shortly after the shooting, driving the wrong way on Monroe Street before making a fast turn onto Main Avenue.

As he got out of his patrol car, Fertakis said he noticed a man about 30 feet away whose face was obscured by a red hooded jacket, walking east on Main. The man glanced his way but kept walking.

At the time, police were looking for Olsen and feared he’d been shot, Fertakis said.

“There’s a strong brotherhood with police officers. … I feared for the worst that Jay Olsen had been shot and he was laying up there in the darkness,” Fertakis said. Minutes later, an intoxicated Olsen identified himself to police officers with his hands in the air, telling them he was armed.

“It immediately struck me he appeared to be the individual who walked right by me and made no effort to contact me. … It bothered me that he’d not done so,” Fertakis said.

Under cross-examination, Cossey suggested Fertakis and Olsen had a tense relationship.

That was true, Fertakis said, noting a “steady deterioration in (Olsen’s) work ethic” and an uptick in his days off for sick time.

Spokane police Officer Zachary Dahle was the first to talk to Olsen after he surrendered his personal Glock pistol.

“Olsen said, ‘Some guy stole my truck and I chased him’ (and) he stated, ‘He turned on me and threatened to kill me,’ ” Dahle said.

Olsen asked Dahle if the man he had chased was a “prolific vehicle thief” and then asked if he was doing OK.

“I told him the male was talking and he was all right. He stated, ‘Damn,’ ” Dahle said.

Under cross-examination, Cossey suggested that Olsen’s “damn” referred to the entire situation he was in – facing an inquest for an officer-involved shooting.

Steinmetz, the deputy prosecutor, was having none of it. He read the section of Dahle’s report to the jury where Olsen inquired into Pete’s fate.

“Olsen asked, is he okay? I (Dahle) said he was talking and I thought he was all right. Olsen then stated, ‘Damn,’ ” the report says.

“So it didn’t have anything to do with the situation, did it?” Steinmetz asked.

“That’s right,” Dahle replied.

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 but 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 in Leveque’s courtroom 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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