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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Civil suit dismissed against former officer in shooting


Former Spokane Police Officer James “Jay” Olsen, who was exonerated two years ago of criminal wrongdoing in the shooting of a fleeing, unarmed man, now will avoid any civil responsibility for the 2007 attack as well.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward F. Shea agreed Wednesday with a request by Olsen’s attorney, Rob Cossey, to dismiss the civil lawsuit brought by Shonto Pete, who was shot in the back of the head by Olsen. Pete was unable to find an attorney to represent him after Shea decided last year to drop the city of Spokane from the case.

“I know this is a sad day for you Mr. Pete,” Shea said. “I gave you 100 days to complete discovery. You have simply failed to carry that out, so I’m dismissing the case.”

Pete yelled at Shea as he walked off the bench: “That’s what you call justice? Justice is a joke.”

The case began on Feb. 26, 2007, when both Pete and Olsen had been drinking. Olsen, who was off-duty at the time, was carrying a concealed gun at Dempsey’s Brass Rail in downtown Spokane when he claims he saw Pete try to steal his truck.

Olsen, who was legally drunk, chased Pete, mostly on foot, and shot him in the back of the head as Pete ran down an embankment into Peaceful Valley. Pete, who was also legally drunk that night, was later exonerated on a criminal charge that he stole Olsen’s truck.

In December 2008, Pete filed a $750,000 claim against Olsen and the city, citing a violation of his civil rights. Then in 2009, a Spokane jury acquitted Olsen of first-degree assault and reckless endangerment in connection with the shooting.

A short time later, Olsen quit the police force before Chief Anne Kirkpatrick could decide whether to fire him for his actions. As a result of his acquittal, the city had to pay Olsen $167,000 – which included about $10,000 for overtime never worked – for the time he was placed on unpaid layoff status following his arrest.

The civil case proceeded, but Shea ruled a year ago to drop the city from the case; after that, Pete’s attorney, John Kannin of Seattle, quit the case. Pete told Judge Shea Wednesday that he has tried to find another attorney to advance his case but could not.

“I didn’t get the $150,000 in back pay to find an attorney. All I got was $10.12 for being a witness,” Pete said. “In order for me to get a fair shot at this, I am asking for a little more time to advance this … especially being the victim in this matter.”

But Shea pointed out that he had already given Pete more time.

“My responsibility is to both parties,” Shea said. “Mr. Olsen has rights, too. I’m going to dismiss the case for failure to prosecute.”

Olsen, 47, declined a request for comment following the hearing.

“This has been a long haul,” Cossey said on behalf of Olsen. “He wants to get on with his life. Judge Shea was very, very fair with Mr. Pete.”

Pete, who still has $20,000 in medical bills, disagreed.

“What justice is that when you can’t even get a fair shake in front of a jury to discuss your case? You get to shoot someone and not be held responsible,” he said. “People are supposed to be held responsible for the things you do. And (Olsen) got off scot-free.”