March 5, 2009 in City

Competing stories emerge in Olsen trial

Staff writer
More on this topic

Background and the latest updates

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 sheriff’s Detective Michael Ricketts 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 and wearing 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 on the bluff above Peaceful Valley, and then fired four more shots as Pete 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 inside Olsen’s truck.

Steinmetz, after objections from Olsen’s lawyer Rob Cossey, was not permitted by Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque to tell the jury that Olsen refused the detectives’ request to tape-record their interview.

During the police interview, Cossey took Olsen out of the room for five minutes when the detectives told Olsen there were witnesses who’d seen one male chasing another along Riverside Avenue just before the shooting, Hollenbeck said.

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. The men were about 20 feet apart when he fired, Olsen said.

Hollenbeck said Pete told the detectives he’d turned to his left and raised his hands in the air as Olsen was trying to persuade him to walk back up the hill to talk to him. Pete said, ‘It felt like he was baiting me and it didn’t feel right,’ Hollenbeck said. As he turned to run, Pete said he heard a boom and was knocked down.

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 and a bullet in one of the houses.

Olsen also told the detectives that Pete said he’d been hit after he fired.

“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 Olsen’s 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 slowly downhill to simulate how long it would have taken a stumbling 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, 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 asked Hollenbeck if police training also included learning “to build a self-defense case.” Hollenbeck said it did.

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 above his left ear came in from behind, Hollenbeck said.

Neurologist Dr. Jeffery Hirschauer testified that the bullet caused a small hemorrhage under Pete’s scalp next to the covering of the brain.

Edward Robinson, a forensic expert for the Washington State Patrol, said the hollow-point bullet flattened and fanned out in Pete’s head. He couldn’t definitively link the bullets to Olsen’s gun because bullets from Glock pistols are hard to identify, but he was able to identify the shell casings recovered after the shooting as coming from Olsen’s weapon.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email