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.