March 12, 2009 in City

‘I knew this could be my whole career,’ Olsen testifies

Staff writer
 
CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON photo

Suspended Spokane police Officer Jay Olsen uses a map during his trial Wednesday in Spokane to recount his actions the night he fired shots at Shonto Pete.
(Full-size photo)

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After he shot Shonto Pete in the head on a February night in Peaceful Valley, suspended Spokane police Officer Jay Olsen said, he felt his life imploding.

He didn’t call 911 or for police backup. He thought about his career as 15 minutes ticked by just before 4 a.m. Feb. 26, 2007.

He knew he’d violated police rules by getting drunk in a bar while carrying a concealed weapon. He feared his new police chief, Anne Kirkpatrick, who’d told officers during her first months on the job that she’d fire anyone who lied to her.

“I knew this could be my whole career,” Olsen told a Spokane County Superior Court jury Wednesday.

“I knew there was going to be a big investigation, and I knew where I just came from. Dempsey’s is a gay bar, and that was where I was at,” Olsen said.

Olsen described himself as a closeted gay man who hadn’t shared his secret with his police co-workers and only came out to his family – including his police sergeant brother, Eric Olsen – two days ago.

“I’ve had this secret in my department for 16 years. … I’m trying to get control on all of this,” Olsen added.

Olsen said he deliberately ignored one of the first officers who responded to the shooting, Spokane police Sgt. Joel Fertakis, because he’d given Olsen lukewarm performance reviews and had made anti-gay comments within the Police Department.

“The worst person in the world was in that car,” Olsen said, describing his reaction when he saw Fertakis’ unmarked police vehicle on West Main Avenue. After walking past Fertakis, he placed a cell phone call to Mel Champagne, a Spokane lawyer and family friend.

The jury heard Champagne’s name, but Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque has not allowed the attorneys to tell jurors he’s a lawyer.

Olsen accused Pete of stealing his truck that night after the bars closed downtown, but Pete was acquitted of theft charges by another jury in October 2007.

Under questioning from his lawyer, Rob Cossey, Olsen said he and his friend Renee Main were on “overload” and she was hysterical after they watched Pete take Olsen’s truck on Lincoln Street as they sat in Main’s sedan. He said they pursued the truck onto West Riverside, where Pete jumped out and Olsen followed him on foot.

“Did you call for backup or 911?” Cossey asked.

“I did not. … In hindsight, I should have,” Olsen replied.

Pete has given a different story in Olsen’s trial on first-degree assault and reckless endangerment charges. Pete testified that he and Olsen exchanged insults after Pete approached Main’s car and asked for a ride home on the cold winter night. Pete said Olsen began to give chase in his truck as he walked away.

Both men were drunk at the time, according to court documents.

Olsen gave his version of what happened on the steep bluff above Peaceful Valley after he and a fleeing Pete jumped a guardrail on Riverside Ave.

“I continued down the embankment. It was very slick. That’s where he first turned on me,” Olsen said, saying Pete swung his hand threateningly.

“I honestly feared for my life. I took two or three shots,” Olsen said. “Based on my training, there was no doubt in my mind I was going to be done that night,” Olsen said. Pete was unarmed except for a small pocketknife.

When people move threateningly, police are trained to respond “with lethal force,” Olsen added.

After Olsen moved 10 to 12 feet, he said, Pete turned on him a second time, and he fired again.

“Then Pete yelled, ‘You hit me.’ … I said, ‘Stop, get down,’ and he just kept going,” Olsen said.

After Pete ran toward a cluster of houses, “I didn’t see him again,” Olsen said. “I stood there. The threat was done.”

In cross-examination, deputy prosecutor Larry Steinmetz asked Olsen if he intended to kill Pete.

“I was shooting to stop the threat – not to put a bullet in Mr. Pete’s head,” Olsen replied.

“If you didn’t intend to kill or seriously injure Mr. Pete, how did he have a bullet in his head?” Steinmetz asked.

Olsen said he was sliding down the steep hill while firing and the bullet likely deflected off a tree.

“You heard (Pete) testify the bullet went in from the rear of his head. That would indicate he wasn’t looking at you,” Steinmetz said.

“That’s not correct,” Olsen replied.

Steinmetz also pressed Olsen on how much he’d had to drink. Olsen’s blood alcohol level was later estimated to be between .07 and .13, according to Washington State Patrol toxicology tests. The blood alcohol limit for driving a vehicle is .08.

Spokane police Officer Zachary Dahle testified that Olsen wouldn’t have been allowed to drive with that blood alcohol level.

“Were you too intoxicated to drive a motor vehicle?” Steinmetz asked.

“Based on Dahle, yes,” Olsen said.

Olsen said he’d had a drink at home and took it with him on the road before meeting Main, his best friend, at Dempsey’s Brass Rail about 11:30 p.m. They had more drinks and left the bar around 2 a.m.

Both smelled strongly of alcohol and had red eyes when detectives questioned them after the shooting, according to previous trial testimony.

“My plans were to get in my car and drive home. In hindsight, it wouldn’t have been a good idea,”Olsen said.

Olsen was suspended with pay the day of the shooting, in accordance with Spokane Police Department practice for an officer-involved shooting. After his arrest for Pete’s shooting April 13, 2007, he was put on unpaid layoff status.

Olsen admitted he violated department policy by drinking in Dempsey’s while armed with a concealed weapon – his personal Glock pistol.

Police officers are encouraged to carry guns even when off-duty, but are discouraged from carrying a concealed weapon where alcohol is consumed, Olsen added.

The Glock is the same type that Spokane police detectives use and the Police Department had approved the use of his personal weapon while off-duty, Olsen said.

“Would you recommend anybody have alcohol around firearms?” Cossey asked.

“No. I hunt and I never drink when I hunt,” Olsen said.

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

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