Sudden threat – or deadly pursuit?
Two competing versions of the February 2007 incident that ended with Shonto Pete shot in the head and assault charges against suspended police officer Jay Olsen began to emerge Wednesday during testimony in Olsen’s trial in Spokane County Superior Court.
Spokane Police Detective Kip Hollenbeck, under questioning from deputy prosecutor Larry Steinmetz, said Olsen told him and a sheriff’s detective in an interview two days after the shooting that he’d fired five continuous rounds from his personal mini-Glock pistol at Pete in a late-night chase in Peaceful Valley.
Olsen and Pete both were drunk at the time, according to court documents, and Olsen was off-duty in civilian clothes.
Olsen told the detectives that it took about five seconds to discharge the bullets. That is at odds with Pete’s testimony earlier this week, where he said Olsen fired once, striking him in the head from behind near a pine tree on the bluff above Peaceful Valley, and then fired four more shots as he ran downhill to a cluster of houses, seeking help.
In the police interview, Olsen said he shot at Pete to “contact and detain” him because Pete stole his truck. A jury in October 2007 rejected theft charges against Pete stemming from Olsen’s accusation after prosecutors in that case were unable to produce any evidence that Pete was ever inside Olsen’s truck.
The detectives also asked Olsen if he ever identified himself as a police officer.
“No, at no time…I’m fearing for my life, I’m thinking I’m going to die right here,” Olsen replied.
Olsen also said Pete turned to face him on the steep bluff and moved his hand before he opened fire – a statement contradicted by forensic evidence that the bullet entered Pete’s skull from behind.
Olsen said he aimed his volley of .40-caliber bullets “into the ground” on the bluff above Peaceful Valley and never shot toward the houses to the west where Pete ran. Later, police found a bullet hole in one of the houses.
Olsen also told the detectives that Pete said he’d been hit.
“Were you angry?” the detectives asked.
“No, I was in control,” Olsen replied.
The detectives also asked Olsen if he’d shot at Pete “when he wasn’t taking an aggressive stand at you.”
“No. When I fired, it was a threat,” Olsen replied.
Steinmetz set up a white board and asked Hollenbeck to write down a question and an answer from the police interview with Olsen: “Did you call for help?” and his reply, “No, it was very quick. I didn’t feel I had time to do that.”
Hollenbeck said he and other officers returned to the scene of the shooting in March 2007. Hollenbeck ran downhill to simulate how long it would have taken Pete to flee in the darkness.
It took 28 to 30 seconds to get to the bottom of the hill, Hollenbeck said.
Hollenbeck, under questioning from Steinmetz, said Pete couldn’t have run 350 feet downhill to North Cedar Street in the five seconds Olsen said it took to fire his gun.
Under cross-examination, Olsen’s attorney Rob Cossey asked Hollenbeck how police officers are trained to protect themselves.
“Are you taught to fire a series of shots?” Cossey asked.
“We are taught to fire until the threat stops,” Hollenbeck replied.
Steinmetz, on re-direct, asked Hollenbeck if his – and Olsen’s – police training also included learning “to build a self-defense case.” Hollenbeck said that was also part of their training.
Hollenbeck also said there was no physical evidence to support Olsen’s claim that Pete threatened him.
Pete’s story about being shot in the head near a ponderosa pine tree on the bluff and running down the hill to North Cedar is consistent with the physical evidence – including a trail of Pete’s blood – found in the neighborhood, Hollenbeck added.
Pete told the detectives he didn’t know Olsen was a police officer.
“(Pete) said, ‘If I’d known he was a cop I would have stayed, but if I had, he would have killed me.’” Pete also said a nurse at Sacred Heart Medical Center where he was taken following the incident showed him how the bullet lodged in his skull came in from behind, Hollenbeck said.