Saturday, April 17, 2021
April 17, 2021

Linkedin Pinterest

Pierce deputy fired shots through windshield of unmarked police car after boxing in Michael Reinoehl’s Volkswagen

By
Published:
4 Photos
A Washington State Patrol Crime Lab worker looks at evidence markers in the early morning hours of Sept. 4 in Lacey, at the scene where Michael Reinoehl was killed by police.
A Washington State Patrol Crime Lab worker looks at evidence markers in the early morning hours of Sept. 4 in Lacey, at the scene where Michael Reinoehl was killed by police. (Associated Press files) Photo Gallery

Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy James Oleole watched from the front passenger seat of an unmarked SUV as homicide suspect Michael Reinoehl, wearing a black shirt, black shorts and a black face mask, emerged from a Lacey apartment.

Moments earlier, Oleole and other members of the U.S. Marshals Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force had gathered for a tactical briefing. They examined photos of Reinoehl, learned he had a silver Volkswagen Jetta, likely was armed with a handgun, a rifle and possibly a shotgun, and had pledged on social media he “would not be taken alive.” They also shared that he had reported being “100 % ANTIFA,” and “thinks he his at war with the police,” according to investigative reports.

The task force officers preferred to arrest him that Sept. 3 evening while he was on foot, but if he got into his car, they planned to block him in to avoid a dangerous high-speed chase, the reports said.

What transpired next was far from what the task force members had anticipated: Their radio reception was faulty, intermittent and full of static, hampering officers’ communications at the scene as soon as Reinoehl was spotted. Within minutes of their arrival, four officers fired 40 gunshots, striking and killing Reinoehl, and also sending children and families outside scattering for cover. The initial officer who fired didn’t wait to step out of his unmarked SUV, firing his rifle through the front windshield, sending glass shards into the face of his partner behind the wheel. At least one bullet flew through an apartment occupied with a woman and several children and lodged in a kitchen wall, according to investigative reports.

The reports and photos from the scene were released Tuesday in response to a public records request from The Oregonian/OregonLive. Oregon Public Broadcasting first published a story on the reports Wednesday.

Thurston County investigators last week announced that they had completed the investigation and found it “highly likely” that Reinoehl had fired a single shot at officers before they fired more than three dozen shots at Reinoehl from two handguns and two rifles. Yet they said they couldn’t say conclusively that Reinoehl fired his gun because investigators never recovered a bullet from his handgun.

On the afternoon of Sept. 3, a Multnomah County judge had signed a warrant for the arrest of Reinoehl, a self-described anti-fascist, in the Aug. 29 fatal shooting of Aaron “Jay” Danielson, 38, a supporter of the right-wing Patriot Prayer group, in downtown Portland after a pro-Trump car caravan.

A friend had tipped off law enforcement in Portland to Reinoehl’s location, saying he was hiding out in an apartment complex at 7601 S.E. Third Way, outside of Lacey, the reports show.

Task force officers arrived at the complex between 6 and 6:30 p.m.

Oleole saw Reinoehl emerge from the apartment about 6:49 pm. He kept his eye on him as he walked towards the Jetta parked along the street. Reinoehl paused in the middle of a sidewalk, looking at his phone for several seconds, before he made his way to the Jetta.

Oleole attempted by radio to alert other officers in the area of Reinoehl’s location, but the radio reception was terrible, according to the reports. He wasn’t sure he was getting through. He radioed again, advising it would be good to “take the car and the subject,” as Reinoehl got into the driver’s seat.

“I did not hear any response,” he told investigators.

Oleole and his partner, Lakewood Police Officer Michael Merrill, who sat behind the wheel of the unmarked silver Ford Escape, decided to move in.

Merrill drove south toward the Volkswagen Jetta, and stopped about 10 feet from its front bumper. Oleole opened his passenger side door, said he yelled “Police” as he moved to get out of the car, pointing his rifle at Reinoehl.

Reinoehl looked up at the officers and then down, Oleole told investigators.

Oleole said he saw Reinoehl’s arms and hands moving and feared he was grabbing a gun. If he hesitated, Oleole said he thought Reinoehl might fire and kill him or Merrill, so Oleole fired through the windshield of the police SUV, according to the reports. The shots were fired about 6:53 p.m., just four minutes after Oleole had first spotted Reinoehl, investigators noted.

When Reinoehl didn’t react, Oleole continued firing shots through the Ford’s windshield, he wrote in a statement to investigators.

Merrill said he had noticed the headlights on the Jetta come on when he drove up to the car. He spotted Reinoehl look up at their vehicle and then “lunge forward” inside the Jetta, with his right hand also going forward, he said. Merrill said he initially thought that Reinoehl was putting the car into drive and intended to ram into them, but then he noticed Reinoehl was moving toward the front center console of the Volkswagen.

Merrill said he saw Reinoehl “raising an object in his hand…I thought it was a firearm,” according to a written statement he gave investigators.

Suddenly, Merrill heard gunshots. Nearly simultaneously, he felt shards of glass from his windshield striking his face, according to the reports. The windshield was cracking and splintering in front of him, spraying him with glass and dust, and the shots were deafening, he told investigators.

“I thought we were being shot at,” he said in a statement.

Merrill grabbed his rifle and stepped out of his car. He ran around the back of his car to the passenger side, beside Oleole. As he came up to Oleole, Merrill said he heard Oleole yell at Reinoehl, “Stop, Police,” his statement said. Merrill yelled, “Show me your hands!,” according to the reports.

Reinoehl exited the driver’s side of his car and turned away from the officers and ran towards the back of the Jetta, crouching down behind it. He then ran past a white pickup parked behind the Jetta, before he turned toward the officers, and “started raising his right arm up and towards us,” Merrill said in a statement.

Merrill said that’s when he fired at Reinoehl, according to the statement.

Another task force member, Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy Craig Gocha, had driven up behind Merrill’s car in an unmarked silver Chevy Traverse and had pulled near the front passenger side of the Jetta. Gocha said Reinoehl seemed to mouth, “Oh (expletive),” from the front seat of the Jetta when the unmarked police cars pulled up in front of his car. Gocha got out of the Chevy, pointed his gun at Reinoehl and fired at him when he said he believed he saw Reinoehl reach for his right waistband while still inside his car, according to his statement.

Gocha heard other shots and wasn’t sure if it “was law enforcement firing or not,” according to the reports.

As Reinoehl ran from them, Oleole said he feared Reinoehl would take someone hostage or harm civilians or other task force officers, including officers parked behind the pickup. Oleole said he kept firing, afraid that Reinoehl was “trying to retrieve a weapon and he was going to try and kill me or anyone around me,” his statement said.

Gocha inched along the passenger side of the Jetta as Reinoehl ran behind it and the parked white pickup truck. He continued to fire, he said, as he saw Reinoehl still “continuously trying to pull something out of his right pocket,” according to his statement.

As Reinoehl reached the back of the white pickup, he turned towards another task force vehicle that Jacob Whitehurst, a Washington state corrections officer, had driven to the scene.

Whitehurst had pulled his unmarked Dodge Charger behind the white pickup when his fellow officers had moved in front of the Volkswagen.

Whitehurst was standing behind his open driver’s door, his 9mm pistol drawn. He saw Reinoehl fall behind the rear of the pickup in front of him, and noticed Reinoehl had “been attempting to remove something from his right front pants,” Whitehurst said.

Whitehurst said he yelled “Police, stay down !” but Reinoehl stood up and drew his shirt up with his left hand, according to Whitehurst. Whitehurst said he could see that “Reinoehl was trying to draw a pistol from his pants pocket “based on the outline of the gun,” his statement said.

Whitehurst saw “the grip of the pistol as it was being drawn out” of Reinoehl’s pocket, he said, and fired twice at him.

The four officers fired a total of 40 rounds before Reinoehl fell face down on the street in front of a set of mailboxes, according to the reports. Another officer who had a ballistic shield approached Rienoehl. Oleole and Merrill ordered Reinoehl to show his hands but he didn’t respond.

Officers who approached said Reinoehl could be heard breathing. They rolled him over and found his hand on the butt of a handgun partially protruding from his left front jeans pocket, the reports said.

An officer removed Reinoehl’s hand from the pistol grip to handcuff his hands behind his back, the reports said. Officers tried to perform CPR, but Reinoehl was declared dead at the scene.

An autopsy showed Reinoehl sustained five gunshot wounds. A 9mm bullet hit his back. Another 9mm entered the back of his head and lodged above his right ear, which would have been instantly fatal, the autopsy found. A .223-caliber bullet struck him in the back of his neck below his skull. A bullet struck his right side and hit several major organs, which also would have been fatal, according to the autopsy.

Of the 40 shots, investigators said Gocha had fired 18 from a handgun, Oleole 13 or 14 from a rifle, Merrill six or seven rounds from a rifle and Whitehurst two rounds from a handgun.

A loaded .380-caliber Hellcat pistol pulled from Reinoehl’s pocket had blood on the grip, according to the reports. Forensic lab tests confirmed it was the same gun used in the fatal shooting of Danielson in Portland.

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office led the Region 3 Critical Incident Investigation Team in examining the police shooting of Reinoehl. The team completed its investigation last week and turned over its reports to the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for review.

Loading...

Commenting is no longer available on Columbian.com. Please visit our Facebook page to leave comments on local stories.