Shonto Pete filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against a former Spokane police officer for shooting him in the head during a drunken chase in early 2007. Federal Judge Edward Shea dismissed the suit on March 2, 2011, after Pete was unable to find an attorney to represent him in the case.
Pete had also wanted to sue the city of Spokane, but Shea ruled March 12, 2010, that the city could not be held liable for the actions of James “Jay” Olsen, who was off-duty and drunk when he fired at Pete several times in Peaceful Valley. Pete was shot in the head; the bullet lodged in his scalp.
Olsen, who was a 16-year veteran of the Spokane Police Department, was charged with first-degree assault and two counts of reckless endangerment for shooting Pete on Feb. 26, 2007. After his jury trial was postponed five times, Olsen was acquitted in March 2009. The city had to pay him $153,000 for the time he was placed on unpaid layoff status following his arrest.
Olsen resigned from the police department in April 2009, shortly before he was to meet with Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick to discuss her decision to fire him from the force for departmental violations stemming from the shooting, including conduct unbecoming an officer and making an untruthful statement during a criminal investigation.
Olsen accused Pete of driving away in his truck after the bars closed in downtown Spokane. A jury in October 2007 acquitted Pete of criminal charges that he stole Olsen’s truck.
Pete said he’d asked Olsen for a ride and was rebuffed, and that Olsen started following him in the truck as Pete fled on foot. Olsen told investigators he feared for his life because he thought Pete had a gun.
In December 2009, Pete filed a $750,000 claim against the city, citing a violation of his civil rights. Federal judge Edward F. Shea ruled in favor of a motion brought by Assistant City Attorney Ellen O’Hara seeking to sever the city from the case.
Pete said he has about $20,000 in medical bills and $18,000 in attorney fees he must pay.
Summary written by Scott Maben
Former Spokane Police Officer James “Jay” Olsen had been with the department 16 years when, after a night of drinking at a Spokane bar, he chased and shot Shonto Pete in the head on Feb. 26, 2007. Olsen was drunk at the time, and said he had been at a gay bar. In testimony during his trial, he described himself as a closeted gay man who hadn’t shared his secret with his police co-workers or his family. Olsen admitted he violated department policy by drinking while armed with a concealed weapon – his personal Glock pistol – but insisted he was defending himself from Pete, whom Olsen claimed stole his truck. Although a jury acquitted Olsen of first-degree assault and reckless endangerment for shooting Pete, he resigned from the police department prior to his expected dismissal for violating department policy.
Shonto Pete survived a bullet wound to the head, and now he’s suing the former Spokane police officer who shot him during a drunken chase in February 2007. He hopes to prevail to help pay medical bills and attorney fees. Pete, a Native American born in Montana, is part Bitterroot Salish and also registered with his father’s Navajo tribe. He attended school in Pablo and after high school graduation went to work as a floor boss at the Northern Quest Casino in Spokane. Pete is married and has a son. He has produced four CDs of Native American drum and dance songs, some of which he posted on YouTube. His nickname on the popular Web site: “Bulletproof.”
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