Still demanding justice for Andre and Bryson

May 26, 2016

Brian Huseby reports from Olympia, Washington, on an ongoing struggle to hold a police officer accountable for shooting two unarmed Black men one year ago.

ON MAY 21, approximately 100 people gathered in Olympia, Washington, to remember Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin, two Black men shot a year ago by a white Olympia police officer.

In the early morning of May 21, 2015, an employee of the Safeway grocery store in West Olympia called 911 and reported that two young Black men had attempted to shoplift a case of beer, but had dropped it and fled when confronted by store employees.

At 1:15 a.m., Olympia police officer Ryan Donald spotted and confronted two men who he thought matched the description given by the 911 dispatch. Donald shot the men multiple times, once by his car and again in a nearby wooded area where he had chased them. After other emergency responders arrived at the scene, both men were helicoptered to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

News of the shooting prompted an immediate protest that reached approximately 400 people at its height. An internal review board was soon formed to investigate the shooting. Only one member of the board, the executive director of the State Commission on African American Affairs, was not a law enforcement or city official.

Hundreds took the streets in Olympia after the May 2015 shooting of two unarmed African American men
Hundreds took the streets in Olympia after the May 2015 shooting of two unarmed African American men

Predictably, the board cleared Donald of all wrongdoing. In addition, the Olympia Police Department refused to fire Donald or even reprimand him. Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim rejected protestors' demands to file criminal charges against Donald. Instead, on the basis of Donald's claim during the investigation that the men threatened him with their skateboards, Tunheim filed two counts of second-degree assault against Andre and Bryson. The two men are currently awaiting trial.

Andre and Bryson sustained multiple gunshot wounds. Even though Andre still has several bullets in his body, he has mostly recovered physically from his wounds. Bryson, however, still has a bullet in his spinal cord and can't use his legs, forcing him to use a wheelchair.

Multiple protests have taken place throughout the year, including at Tunheim's office and his home, where some protestors chained themselves to the fence.

As a result of the shooting, activists formed the Black Alliance of Thurston County, which has the goals of changing the state's deadly force statute and otherwise furthering the interests of the county's Black residents. Co-founder Karen Johnson explained "We're a group of blessed Black people. We hit the earth at the right time to earn status, position and power. But this generation will never see that power, that status, unless we stand up and do something."

THE MAY 21 rally and march marked the first public appearance of Andre and Bryson and of their mother, Crystal Chaplin who remarked, "I get a little anxiety, but it's time to get out there."

As the march began, a large pickup truck drove through the crowd with the driver revving his engine and driving at the people standing in his way. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

Marchers continued through downtown Olympia and rallied in front of city hall. There, Andre Taylor, whose brother Che Taylor was shot and killed by Seattle police on February 21, spoke out. Taylor told the group about a ballot initiative that would strike the portion of Washington's deadly force statute that requires proof that cops acted with malice and without good faith in order for officers to be criminally convicted. According to Amnesty International, Washington is the only state that requires that this standard be met.

Activists are not giving up, and want to continue the fight until the criminal charges against Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin are dropped, Officer Ryan Donald is fired, and Washington's deadly force statute described above is repealed.

Further Reading

From the archives