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Police shot Portland slaying suspect without warning or trying to arrest him first, witness says

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 10, 2020

Michael Forest Reinoehl, speaking to ViCE News in an interview regarding a Portland shooting, was killed by police last week in Lacey, Wash.
Michael Forest Reinoehl, speaking to ViCE News in an interview regarding a Portland shooting, was killed by police last week in Lacey, Wash.
By Tim Elfrink Washington Post

When police last week surrounded Michael Forest Reinoehl, a self-described anti-fascist suspected of fatally shooting a member of a far-right group in Portland, the wanted man wasn’t obviously armed, a witness to the scene said Wednesday.

In fact, according to Nate Dinguss, Reinoehl was clutching a cellphone and eating a gummy worm as he walked to his car outside an apartment complex in Lacey, Washington. That’s when officers opened fire without first announcing themselves or trying to arrest him, Dinguss, a 39-year-old who lives in the apartment complex, said in a statement shared with The Washington Post.

Dinguss’s account of the Sept. 3 shooting, first reported by the Oregonian, contradicts details offered by federal authorities, who said Reinoehl, 48, pulled a gun as members of a fugitive task force tried to arrest him. Two other witnesses also told the Olympian that they’d seen Reinoehl fire a weapon at police.

Dinguss, whose attorney described him as an ordained minister, said he fears reprisals from far-right groups and police for describing what he saw unfolding outside his apartment.

“We are very concerned for our client’s safety for speaking out, both from the fascist right, and retaliation by law enforcement,” said Luke Laughlin, his attorney, in a statement.

Reinoehl’s case unfolded against a national backdrop of escalating violence as protesters and far-left groups clashed with armed members of self-described militias and far-right organizations in Wisconsin, Oregon and elsewhere.

Prosecutors last week charged Reinoehl with fatally shooting Aaron J. Danielson, 39, on Aug. 29 after supporters of President Donald Trump clashed with counterprotesters in downtown Portland. In an interview with Vice News last week, Reinoehl suggested the shooting was self-defense and said he believed Danielson, a member of the far-right Patriot Prayer group, was threatening him and a friend.

As national politicians, including Trump, demanded that Reinoehl be swiftly arrested, officers in the Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force tracked him to Lacey, about 120 miles north of Portland.

There are few official details about what happened next. At least four members of the task force, which included officers from a variety of local agencies, fired dozens of times at Reinoehl; the U.S. Marshals Service later said he had a handgun, but it wasn’t clear whether he’d fired it at police.

Dinguss said he never saw Reinoehl pull out a gun.

He said he watched as two unmarked police vehicles converged on Reinoehl as he walked to his car, holding his phone and chewing on a piece of candy. The officers never audibly identified themselves and didn’t try to arrest Reinoehl, Dinguss said.

Instead, he said they immediately began firing. When Reinoehl heard the gunfire, he ducked behind his car, which was pinned in by the law enforcement vehicles; he never tried to get inside, Dinguss said, and never reached for a weapon. Dinguss said he watched police unleash rapid-fire rounds at Reinoehl, once pausing to shout “Stop!” before resuming their fire.

Dinguss added that officers waited “multiple minutes” before rendering medical aid to Reinoehl, who died at the scene from several gunshot wounds.

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating Reinoehl’s death, didn’t immediately return a message about Dinguss’s account; a spokesman for the Marshals declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

Laughlin called for the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office to reassign their investigation, alleging that the agency has a conflict of interest since it procured the search warrants against Reinoehl.

“A completely independent agency with no involvement in the events must conduct the investigation,” Laughlin said. “However, the level of involvement of TCSO in the criminal investigation of Reinoehl is questionable.”

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