Washington police who shot a fugitive only planned to use deadly force, lawsuit claims

The fugitive shot and killed a far-right supporter of Donald Trump in Portland, OR in 2020
Police walk at the site of a police shooting on Sept. 3, 2020, in Lacey, Washington, where...
Police walk at the site of a police shooting on Sept. 3, 2020, in Lacey, Washington, where Michael Reinoehl, a man who fatally shot a supporter of a right-wing group, was killed by the authorities.(AP Photo/Ted Warren, File)
Published: Jul. 13, 2023 at 2:50 PM PDT
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A federal lawsuit alleges police in Washington state had no plan other than to use deadly force against a fugitive who was on the run in 2020 after shooting a supporter of a far-right group during clashes between supporters of then-President Donald Trump and Black Lives Matter in the streets of Portland, Oregon.

“The actions of the officers, before, during, and after the shooting, show that they either had no plan to arrest the man without injury, made no effort to follow such a plan, or planned to use deadly force from the start,” said the lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma by the estate of Michael Forest Reinoehl, who identified as an anti-fascist.

Reinoehl fatally shot Aaron “Jay” Danielson during chaotic clashes between racial injustice protesters and far-right groups who held a pro-Trump car rally in downtown Portland. The shooting attracted Trump’s attention and further inflamed tensions in Oregon’s largest city, which saw weeks of violent protests against racial injustice and police brutality following George Floyd’s murder.

Reinoehl was caught on surveillance video shooting Danielson, a supporter of the far-right group Patriot Prayer, on Aug. 29, 2020, after a demonstration backing Trump.

Trump cheered on the manhunt for Reinoehl, tweeting just before he was killed for police to “Do your job, and do it fast.”

A federal task force was trying to arrest Reinoehl, 48, at an apartment complex in Lacey, near Olympia, in September 2020 when four officers fired at him as he exited his car.

Law enforcement officers in “militia-style fatigues” raced through a quiet residential neighborhood in unmarked vehicles, the lawsuit said: “Meanwhile, the officers sprayed more than 40 bullets through the neighborhood, killing (Reinoehl), grazing a child playing nearby, and striking cars, fences, backyard playground equipment, buildings, and residences.”

At least five bullets struck him, the lawsuit said.

Washington state prosecutor decided not to file criminal charges against police who shot and killed him.

Washington state and local police were operating as a U.S. Marshals Service task force.

Spokespersons for the Washington State Patrol and for Pierce County said Wednesday they don’t comment on pending litigation.

Lakewood police Chief Patrick Smith said that while they don’t comment on pending litigation, he referred a request for comment to the city’s legal department, which didn’t immediately respond.

The U.S. Department of Justice didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last year, a judge dismissed a federal lawsuit filed against the city of Portland, the mayor and the Multnomah County district attorney by Danielson’s estate.

The lawsuit had alleged that negligence around increasingly violent clashes between competing groups in Portland created an environment that encouraged lawlessness and led to the killing.