It was not exactly a surprise that when the law enforcement agency tasked with investigating the death of antifascist Michael Reinoehl at the hands of federal Marshals Service contractors last September—the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office in western Washington state—finally issued its report on the matter this week, it exonerated their actions, claiming that Reinoehl had fired first.
Nor was it a surprise that the report’s version is full of contradictory and fairly obvious holes, and that Reinoehl’s family is far from persuaded that he was not the victim of a summary extrajudicial execution encouraged by Donald Trump himself.
Among other claims, the report says Reinoehl fired at police first with his handgun. But that handgun was found in Reinoehl’s front pants pocket—with six full rounds in the magazine. The scenario the report depicts means he would have had to have fired a shot at police, reloaded the weapon, and stuck it back in his pants pocket before being killed by five shots to his head and torso as he emerged from the vehicle—which is unlikely at best.
An earlier, independent investigation by ProPublica and Oregon Public Broadcasting into the case raised serious issues about the Sept. 3 killing, the result of Reinoehl’s shooting of a far-right demonstrator named Aaron Danielson in downtown Portland on Aug. 29. The portrait that emerged of how the shooting transpired, including witnesses saying the police gave no warning and that Reinoehl did not display a gun, suggested that the 48-year-old fugitive was not arrested so much as he was simply executed.
Donald Trump seemingly confirmed at an October campaign rally that this was the case, commenting approvingly on the killing by telling the audience in Greenville, North Carolina, that there was no intention of arresting Reinoehl:
We sent in the U.S. Marshals, it took 15 minutes and it was over, 15 minutes and it was over … They knew who he was, they didn’t want to arrest him, and 15 minutes that ended. And they call themselves peaceful protesters.
The shooting happened in the early evening. Reinoehl had been on the lam ever since the shooting of Danielson, and apparently was hiding out that day in a neighborhood near Lacey, Washington, some 119 miles north of Portland. He had given an interview to Vice magazine earlier in the day, telling the reporter that he had acted in self-defense. He was leaving the apartment where he had been in hiding, and had just gotten into his car when a cluster of SUVs containing U.S. Marshals Service contractors descended and surrounded him.
“We could not confirm with 100% certainty that he fired out of the car because (investigators) couldn’t find the round or where it impacted,” Thurston County Sheriff’s Lt. Cameron Simper told the Seattle Times. “But we do believe that that’s what happened.”
The Thurston investigation concludes not only that Reinoehl fired first, but that he failed to comply with orders to surrender and was reaching for a gun in his possession when he was shot. However, other witnesses, including 21 people interviewed by The New York Times, said they did not hear officers identify themselves or give commands before opening fire.
“There was no, ‘Get out of the car!’ There was no, ‘Stop!’ There was no nothing. They just got out of the car and started shooting,” one witness said.
Another described it similarly: “There was no yelling. There was no screaming. There was no altercation. It was just straight to gunshots.”
Reinoehl’s family has a lot of questions about the report’s exoneration of law enforcement’s actions that day. Their attorney, Fred Langer of Seattle, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that investigators’ version of the facts of the case “absolutely strain credulity.”
“The narrative that police are putting out just doesn’t make any sense,” said Langer.
Investigators haven’t released their full report, but the Thurston Sheriff’s Office said last week that it had completed its review and turned it over to prosecutors for a final ruling on whether the killing was justified. It issued a two-page summary of findings that said, based on officer and witness statements, Reinoehl was reaching for a firearm in his possession.
Citing “witness statements,” the summary stated, “there was an exchange of gunfire, which was initiated by Reinoehl from inside his vehicle.”
A .380 caliber shell casing found in the back seat area of Reinoehl’s car came “from the pistol found in Reinoehl’s possession” after he was shot, according to analysts at the state crime lab, and the same gun was also definitively linked to Danielson’s shooting in Portland, according to Simper.
However, Simper did not respond to the Seattle Times’ follow-up questions—notably, including whether those state forensics tests determined how recently Reinoehl’s gun had been fired.
Why aren’t the Portland Police ARRESTING the cold blooded killer of Aaron “Jay” Danielson. Do your job, and do it fast. Everybody knows who this thug is. No wonder Portland is going to hell!
Afterward, Attorney General William Barr issued a statement on the Justice Department letterhead that was equally bloodthirsty:
The tracking down of Reinoehl—a dangerous fugitive, admitted Antifa member, and suspected murderer—is a significant accomplishment in the ongoing effort to restore law and order to Portland and other cities. I applaud the outstanding cooperation among federal, state, and local law enforcement, particularly the fugitive task force team that located Reinoehl and prevented him from escaping justice. The streets of our cities are safer with this violent agitator removed, and the actions that led to his location are an unmistakable demonstration that the United States will be governed by law, not violent mobs.
Trump subsequently told Maria Bartiromo of Fox News: “This guy was a violent criminal, and the U.S. Marshals killed him. And I’ll tell you something—that’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution.”
This all stood in stark contrast to how the Trump administration led a right-wing parade of support for Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois teenager who killed two Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August.
Trump himself had openly sympathized with Rittenhouse. “That was an interesting situation,” he told a rally in Kenosha. “You saw the same tape as I saw. And he was trying to get away from them. I guess it looks like he fell and then they very violently attacked him. And it was something that we’re looking at right now, and it’s under investigation. But I guess he was in very big trouble. He would have been—probably would have been killed, but it’s under investigation.”