New witness accounts into the fatal police shooting of an anti-fascist activist in the US state of Washington last month have revealed that the officers involved did not identify themselves as they moved in to arrest the suspect, US media has reported.
Michael Reinoehl, 48, was wanted on a charge of murder of right-wing activist Aaron Danielson when members of a US Marshals Service task force shot and killed him on September 3 in the Lacey suburb of Olympia after he left an apartment building and got in a car, according to police.
At the time, the Marshals Service claimed in a statement: “Initial reports indicate the suspect [Reinoehl] produced a firearm, threatening the lives of law enforcement officers.”
According to a report in the New York Times on Tuesday, at least 21 witnesses told the newspaper they had not heard the police identify themselves or give any commands before opening fire.
Five witnesses said the shooting began as soon as the task force vehicles arrived and that Reinoehl appeared unarmed.
Self-declared anti-fascist activist Michael Reinoehl, who was shot and killed by police in Washington State on September 3, 2020, takes part in protests against police violence and racial inequality in Portland, Oregon [File: Mathieu Lewis-Rolland via Reuters]Two of the officers at the scene also told investigators they did not see Reinoehl raise a gun inside the vehicle before the firing began, the Times reported.
Officers fired more than 30 rounds at Reinoehl, Thurston County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Ray Brady said on Tuesday. Police found Reinoehl with a loaded .380-caliber handgun in his front pocket and his hand on or near the gun after he was fatally shot, Brady said, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
The sheriff’s office is in charge of the ongoing investigation into the shooting.
Investigators are awaiting lab results to determine whether the gun on Reinoehl, a self-described anti-fascist activist, was the same one used in the Portland shooting.
After it was recovered, Reinoehl’s gun was found to have rounds in it, Brady said, but he would not say how many.
A joint report by ProPublica and the Oregon Public Broadcasting said there were conflicting accounts by civilians and law enforcement officials, raising questions about the events and police conduct.
Witnesses say Reinoehl was in his car when the first shots were fired. He then got out of the vehicle and the officers continued to shoot.
An autopsy found he died from gunshot wounds to the head and upper torso.
Reinoehl, who had provided security for Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Oregon, was allegedly involved in the August 29 shooting of Danielson.
Danielson, 39, was among a caravan of supporters of President Donald Trump who rode in pick-up trucks into downtown Portland and clashed with protesters demonstrating against racial injustice and police brutality.
Portland was racked by escalating clashes between right- and left-wing groups amid protests over the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis on May 25 after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly 10 minutes.
Reinoehl died only hours after Vice News broadcast a video in which he appeared to admit he shot Danielson and said he acted in self-defence.
“I felt that my life and other people around me’s lives were in danger, and I felt like I had no choice but to do what I did,” he said.
In social media posts, Reinoehl had described himself as a professional snowboarder, a US Army veteran and “100% ANTIFA all the way! … We do not want violence but we will not run from it either!”.
Antifa is a largely unstructured, far-left movement whose followers broadly aim to confront those they view as authoritarian or racist.