Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin
An Olympia police officer shot two men suspected of shoplifting beer in the chest during a confrontation early Thursday.
The men were unarmed, except for skateboards.
About 1 a.m. officers went to a Safeway store at 3215 Harrison Ave. W., said Paul Lower of the Olympia Police Department.
Store employees reported that there had been an assault at the grocery. They said two men had tried to steal beer, and when employees confronted them, the men threw beer at the workers and ran away.
An officer found two men with skateboards matching the suspects’ descriptions not far away on Cooper Point Road near 14th Avenue Northwest. There was a confrontation and the officer opened fire, hitting one of the men in the chest, said Olympic Police Chief Ronnie Roberts.
The two suspects then ran into some woodsa. When they emerged, the officer opened fire again, hitting the other man in the chestl, Roberts said.
Witnesses at the scene reported hearing six shots fired.
The men, later identified as Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin of Olympia, were rushed to the hospital, where they are listed in critical but stable condition. The two are stepbrothers, aged 24 and 21. Neither of them was armed with a gun.
The officer who fired the shots was not injured, Roberts said.
The officer later told investigators that when he initially approached the suspects, there was a confrontation behind his patrol car and one of the men assaulted him with his skateboard. The officer said he felt threatened, so he opened fire.
Later, when the two men emerged from the woods, there was another confrontation so he fired again.
Roberts said an investigation will determine whether or not the shootings were justified. He said a skateboard could be considered a deadly weapon, depending on the circumstances.
“He (the officer) believed he had to use deadly force,” Roberts said.
The officer who opened fire is white. The men he shot at African American.
But Roberts said he did not believe that race was a factor in the shooting. He said the officer was not wearing a body cam and that his patrol car was not equipped with a dash cam.
The men’s mother spoke with KOMO Newsradio on Thursday morning and said police came to her home after the shooting and told her what had happened.
She said she can’t understand why the officer shot her sons based on a suspicion that they may have been the ones who tried to steal the beer.
“Even if it was them, did they have to open fire and shoot them? I mean, I heard one was shot in the chest. Was that necessary? I don’t think so,” she said.
Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum called the shootings a “tragic event.”
“Our commmunity is strong, caring and compassionate,” he said. “This is a challenging time that I know we will live through together.”
The officer who fired has been a member of the Olympia police force for three years. He has been placed on administrative leave while the incident is investigated, following standard policy.