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Media Investigation Finds Differing Accounts In Antifa Activist's Fatal Shooting

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

An investigation by Oregon Public Broadcasting and ProPublica shows widely differing accounts of the killing of Antifa supporter Michael Forest Reinoehl. At the beginning of September, a federal fugitive task force led by the U.S. Marshals shot and killed Reinoehl near Olympia, Wash. Reinoehl was suspected in the killing of a far-right activist in Portland, Ore., just days earlier. Joining us now is OPB's Conrad Wilson.

Welcome.

CONRAD WILSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So let's start with what we actually know about what happened to Michael Reinoehl on Sept. 3. What did your investigation find?

WILSON: Well, this shooting happened very fast, around 6:40 p.m. at an apartment complex outside Olympia. What we know we know from investigators looking into the shooting and eyewitnesses my colleague at ProPublica, Bryan Denson, and I interviewed. There's no body camera footage or any known security camera footage and no known cellphone video of the actual shooting. Task force members pulled up in unmarked vehicles with no sirens or lights, blocking Reinoehl's car. The Marshals task force began shooting. Reinoehl got out of his car and moved behind it. And within an estimated 15 seconds, he's shot dead.

CHANG: Wow. OK, so what is still not clear about what happened?

WILSON: Well, we have conflicting stories from U.S. Marshals and eyewitnesses. Investigators say at least one member of the U.S. Marshals task force told detectives they gave commands saying, stop police. But several witnesses we spoke with say they didn't hear any such commands. One officer says Reinoehl pointed a gun at him. Another officer says Reinoehl was reaching for his gun but didn't point it. Witnesses we spoke to say they didn't see Reinoehl point a gun. Thurston County Sheriff Ray Brady - he's a lieutenant there - has overseen the investigation into the shooting. And here's what he told us.

RAY BRADY: Our team recovered the gun in his front right pants pocket, and we're still working through a little bit of that.

WILSON: Based on these accounts, it's unclear Reinoehl if these - knew if these were police who came to arrest him or right-wing activists who had found him. Witnesses say officers were wearing khaki pants and bulletproof vests rather than a standard police uniform.

CHANG: Well, I understand that you spoke to Reinoehl's son, who gave you more information about what happened in the days between the shooting in Portland, which led to the manhunt, and the shooting near Olympia. What did he say to you?

WILSON: Well, Deaven Reinoehl says his father was on edge after the shooting in Portland. Here's what he said. And just a note - Lacey is the name of the small city near Olympia where his father was killed.

CHANG: OK.

DEAVEN REINOEHL: He was just planning on trying to disappear on the run. He didn't know where he was going. He had people helping him, like, find, like, these safe houses or whatever. That's why he was in Lacey, but I don't know anything about, like, those people or anything.

CHANG: Can we just step back for a second here? Can you put this shooting into context? Like, how do you see the racial justice protests in Portland and just presidential politics connected to all of this?

WILSON: Well, this whole manhunt was brought about because Reinoehl allegedly shot and killed a right-wing Trump supporter named Aaron J. Danielson at a pro-Trump rally days earlier. So you get this confluence of ongoing racial justice protests in Portland, which Reinoehl participated in, and a Trump rally. So consider this timeline of events all in the same day. Reinoehl's charged with murder, and a warrant is issued for his arrest. An hour or so later, the president called on Portland police to arrest the, quote, "cold-blooded killer of Jay Danielson." He tweeted, quote, "Do your job and do it fast." And he tagged in that tweet the Justice Department and the FBI. The Marshals then killed Reinoehl in this failed arrest attempt. All that happens within a few hours. And days later, in an interview, the president described Reinoehl's as retribution. We should point out that in a statement issued by the Marshals after the shooting, they said that the fugitive task force had attempted to, quote, "peacefully arrest" Reinoehl. The Marshals told us that they were not acting at the direction of the president.

CHANG: That is Conrad Wilson from Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Thank you.

WILSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.