Sheriff's Office Asks Court To Prevent A Different Gov't Agency From Releasing Records Related To The US Marshals' Killing Of An Antifa Activist

from the is-this-a-'tell?'-it-feels-like-a-'tell' dept

A controversial shooting that resulted in another controversial shooting is generating even more controversy.

Earlier this year, self-proclaimed antifa supporter Michael Reinoehl allegedly shot and killed far right counter-protester Aaron Danielson during a protest in Portland, Oregon. Reinoehl claimed the shooting was self-defense. Other witnesses claimed the shooting was unjustified. Neither assertion ever had a chance to be proven. Reinoehl was killed by US Marshals four days later -- an extrajudicial killing praised by President Trump as good and lawful.

“We sent in the U.S. Marshals for the killer, the man who killed the young man on the street. He shot him… just cold blooded killed him,” Trump said. “Two and a half days went by, and I put out ‘when are you going to go get him?’ And the U.S. Marshals went in to get him, and they ended up in a gunfight.”

Trump called Reinoehl a “violent criminal” before suggesting that his extrajudicial killing was par for the course.

“This guy was a violent criminal, and the U.S. Marshals killed him,” Trump said. “And I will tell you something — that’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution when you have crime like this.”

The Thurston County Sheriff's Department was part of the Marshals' fugitive task force. According to the department's statements, the kill was a good one. Officers and Marshals claimed Reinoehl opened fire on the task force first. But there was no evidence of that at the time the department made these statements. A witness said Reinoehl fired first, but here's all the Sheriff had in terms of actual evidence:

Lt. Ray Brady of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Department said investigators have not concluded whether Reinoehl fired any shots.

There could have been more corroboration of the officers' statements, but no officer felt compelled to document the scene.

Brady said he did not believe the officers involved in the shooting had body cameras or dashboard cameras on their vehicles.

Investigations of the shooting are ongoing. But the immediate aftermath featured both the Sheriff's Department and the US Marshals Service declaring the shoot justified.

CJ Ciaramella of Reason isn't satisfied with the official statements. He went looking for documents about the shooting -- one that might clear up whether or not Reinoehl produced a gun or opened fire on officers. Contradictory statements by non-law enforcement witnesses indicate this may not be as clean as law enforcement is portraying it.

But Ciaramella's request for records from the Washington Department of Corrections (which also had an officer on the Marshals' task force) is being blocked by an agency Ciaramella hasn't approached directly. Inserting itself into this open records request is the Thurston County Sheriff, which believes it has a right to prevent Ciaramella from obtaining records from a completely separate government agency.

The Sheriff's request [PDF] for a restraining order blocking the release of shooting records claims the release of these records will undercut its own investigation by [checks filing] giving the public access to information the Sheriff may later demand from the Department of Corrections.

The likelihood is high that the records DOC intends to release contain facts or statements that may be relevant to the Sheriff’s open investigation, and that could in turn undermine the Sheriff’s investigation. Release of these records could also undermine the exemption that the Sheriff properly claimed. Additionally, the likelihood is high that the records DOC holds may, even if redacted, contain information that the Sheriff’s investigation team is prohibited from seeing until its own investigation is complete; and the likelihood is high that such information could make its way back to the Sheriff’s investigation team if DOC releases its records before the Sheriff completes its investigation. Therefore, Thurston County Sheriff’s Office brings this action to preserve the integrity of its investigation and of its claimed exemption under RCW 42.56.240(1), as well as to ensure its efforts to meet its obligations under WAC 139-12-030 are not thwarted.

A cynical reading of this attempted intervention suggests the information held by the DOC isn't completely exculpatory and -- if that information becomes public -- will make it difficult for the Thurston County Sheriff to clear the officers it's investigating. That may also turn out to be the most accurate reading. But we'll have to wait a bit longer. The restraining order has been granted [PDF]... but not with all of the Sheriff's assertions intact.

Here's the pertinent part of the order, with the judge's modifications of the Sheriff's request in [brackets].

A temporary restraining order is appropriate as it appears that disclosure of certain information requested by CJ Ciaramella concerning records related to an open and active homicide investigation led by Thurston County Sheriff's Office (the Reinoehl incident) is [may be] exempt from disclosure under RCW 42.56.240(1), the non-disclosure of such records is [likely] essential to effective law enforcement, and disclosure would [likely] irreparably harm vital government functions…

This buys the Thurston County Sheriff a bit more time. The order is in effect until early next year, when the Sheriff will have to try to talk the court into delaying this release even longer. That it's decided to insert itself into this case suggests it already has some idea it's not going to like what's in the documents it's trying to keep from being released. This "clean" shoot may turn out to be anything but.

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Filed Under: aaron danielson, antifa, foia, michael reinoehl, police, portland, thurston county, thurston county sheriff's department, transparency, us marshals, washington department of coorections

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  1. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 21 Dec 2020 @ 3:53pm

    Nothing says “this was a good shoot” like trying to hide possible evidence that would prove otherwise.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 21 Dec 2020 @ 4:22pm

    'No see, it's okay when we do it.'

    Ah the hypocrisy, responding to one killing that may or may not have been justified by promptly killing the one responsible, because nothing says 'killing people is wrong' like doing it yourself and/or cheering on those that did it.

    As for the sheriff's office stepping in that positively reeks of knowing that the documents contain damning information and trying to prevent it from being made public until the 'investigation' is already over, at which point it'll be moot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Dec 2020 @ 4:32pm

    and that could in turn undermine the Sheriff’s investigation.

    I think the word he is looking for is "whitewash", not "investigation".

    These people are so transparent. Unfortunately, they get away with it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Tanner Andrews (profile), 21 Dec 2020 @ 4:51pm

    Many states provide appellate review of preliminary injunctions, and the person enjoined may even be able to seek expedited review. Of course it costs money, and time. If the Sheriff is simply trying to buy a little time until his whitewash is complete, then the review may be unavailing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 21 Dec 2020 @ 5:10pm

    The risk of tolerating hypocrisy

    Yeah, double standards are subject to creep as much as mass surveillance programs.

    And we can expect more people to get summarily executed if the investigation of this incident is quashed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 21 Dec 2020 @ 5:12pm

    "this was a good shot."

    Maybe he was commenting on the murderer's shooting form.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Paul-240, 21 Dec 2020 @ 7:05pm

    Re: The risk of tolerating hypocrisy

    Or this just could be an excuse to prevent the troublemakers on both sides from going at it again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    crazy_diamond (profile), 21 Dec 2020 @ 7:09pm

    All good

    Regardless of the outcome, I imagine there will be laws proposed in various legislatures declaring any killing by a Joint Wet Work Task Force immune from judicial review or records requests. This was hit, pure and simple.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Pixelation, 21 Dec 2020 @ 7:28pm


    The lawsuit should include Trump for inciting the killing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Upstream (profile), 21 Dec 2020 @ 9:46pm

    CJ against three Goliaths

    It is difficult to get the truth when you have all three branches of government involved in covering-up government wrongdoing:

    Legislative Branch creates huge holes in open records laws.
    Executive Branch makes maximum use of these holes, and stretches them even larger.
    Judicial Branch says all of this is just hunky-dory, at least until it doesn't matter anymore, adhering closely to the "justice delayed is justice denied" principle.

    You can read CJ Ciaramella's article about this situation here. Key point is in the penultimate paragraph:

    Unlike typical government stonewalling tactics, which put the onus on requesters to sue for records, these lawsuits instead make the information seekers bear the costs and time of going to trial to defend their right to know what their government is doing. This is an overt use of courts to drag more of the public business back into the shadows and enforce a type of sub rosa censorship.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 22 Dec 2020 @ 12:17am

    Re: Re: The risk of tolerating hypocrisy

    "Or this just could be an excuse to prevent the troublemakers on both sides from going at it again."


    It's in the interest of everyone, particularly the police involved, that all the evidence of the killing is presented so everyone can see it all went down fairly.

    Unless, of course, it didn't, which is the one reason I can imagine why the cops are trying to not release how the suspect died.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    David, 22 Dec 2020 @ 1:38am

    Well, it's the new trend in politics

    The world can be so much better when you don't constrain yourself to just one reality.

    Publishing the possibly conflicting findings of an investigation prematurely spoils the magic like clandestine shots of supermodels when they have to rush to the door straight out of bed because the postman rings twice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Bloof (profile), 22 Dec 2020 @ 2:18am

    Re: Re: The risk of tolerating hypocrisy

    Yeah, they have no interest in discouraging 'both sides', they made it clear long ago where their allegiance lies. Tge police in Oregon have a long history of maintaining friendly relations with far right groups like Patriot Prayer, despite the fact most of their activities are intended to provoke trouble, and have been caught having friendly chats with members of the Proud Boys at protests, giving then a heads up before using teargas so they can clear out. They want to whitewash this, get their version of events out there first, clear the officers involved and make it as difficult as possible for actual reporting on the story to be done, nevermind justice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    crade (profile), 22 Dec 2020 @ 6:43am

    Why is there information that the Sheriff needs to make sure the Sheriff's "Investigation Team" can't see until after the investigation?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Tanner Andrews (profile), 23 Dec 2020 @ 6:17am


    Assuming without deciding that there is such information, it would seem fairly simple for the Sheriff to tell the team not to review or rely on such information.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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