Suquamish Tribe upset Poulsbo officer reinstated; protests set

The Suquamish Tribe and ex-wife of Stonechild Chiefstick, who was shot to death last July by Poulsbo officer Craig Keller, said Tuesday that they are disappointed but not surprised that Keller will be returning to work.

“I told you so,” said Trishandra Pickup, Chiefstick’s ex-wife. “We already know how indigenous people in this country get treated. We already know how things have been since the ships landed. Of course, it’s disappointing… but it’s just expected.”

The tribe released a statement following a police department investigation into the shooting death of Chiefstick, 39.

“The decision to retain Officer Craig Keller on the Poulsbo Police Force is the latest in a series of moves that have shaken the confidence of the Suquamish Tribal community in the Poulsbo police force and the City of Poulsbo,” reads the opening of the statement. “Since the July 3, 2019, shooting, we have looked for signs that Poulsbo city and law enforcement leaders are taking responsibility for the tragic death, expressing any sympathy for the family, or working to transform a culture that tolerates systemic racism. We have not seen signs of progress on any of these counts.”

The initial investigation concluded in October 2019, after the Kitsap Critical Incident Response Team turned over investigation materials to Kitsap County Prosecutor Chad Enright, who conducted an additional investigation that concluded in April 2020 with no charges filed against Keller.

The Poulsbo Police Department then conducted an internal investigation; it found that Keller acted within the bounds of department policy.

Pickup also is upset that the city of Poulsbo never took responsibility for what happened.

“They’ve never apologized for what happened to my children or myself. They have not addressed it any away and because of that and because they haven’t made an effort to even do it to my Tribe, my Tribe has made some statements because of their reaction to the total disregard and disrespect from the city of Poulsbo,” Pickup said.

The situation has weakened the ties between the Tribe and city to the point that the Suquamish Tribal Council is reconsidering the government to government and the cultural relationship it has developed with Poulsbo.

“We regret the setback in relationships with Poulsbo leadership that has occurred in the last year as we have, in the past, enjoyed successful collaborations,” the statement reads.

Additionally, when the news came out that Keller would be returning to work, a protest was quickly put together on Monday that will go throughout the week calling on Keller to resign.

The first round of protests began Wednesday as a group of 30 plus people lined both sides of Front Street in downtown Poulsbo, many holding signs calling for Keller to be fired or resign, noting that the city sits on unseated Suquamish Tribal lands.

Additional protests will be held at 3 p.m. Aug.21 and 22, according to a Facebook post and email sent out by organizers.

One organizer handed out flyers and encouraged people to sign a petition calling for Keller to be fired and to have the investigation reopened.

Pickup has stated that she and her children will not be attending the protests due to safety concerns. Pickup has reportedly been harassed several times while in Poulsbo due to stickers on her vehicle that support getting justice for Chiefstick,among other things.

The detailed Kitsap Critical Incident Response Team’s report shows Chiefstick resisted arrest, attempted to flee and attack Keller, a five-year veteran who has been on administrative leave.

“I was in fear for Officer Keller’s life,” detective Lee Wheeler says in the report, adding a group of officers was surrounded by citizens, and Chiefstick was in an “aggressive fighting stance.”

Community Service Officer Nicholas San Gil added, “Had officer Keller not had lethal cover, I would have drawn my weapon as well.”

The investigation gave 17 reasons why the use of force was justified but also gives recommendations on how such situations might be handled differently in the future.

While not a viable option in this instance, it says, one recommendation is for the department to receive transitional firearm training, such as in the use of a Taser. Keller said he has not received such training.

“It can mitigate the use of lethal force,” the report says. “Transitional firearms training is an industry-standard.”

Other recommendations were crisis intervention and behavioral health training and programs.

The report says:

The shooting occurred last year at the city’s Independence Day celebration at Murial Iverson Williams Waterfront Park. An estimated 30,000 people attended to enjoy food, entertainment, and fireworks. Five law enforcement agencies provided security.

During the day attendees made numerous complaints about Chiefstick.

•Jeffrey Linne said Chiefstick had been “looking through people’s stuff,” “doing crazy stuff,” and that he “lunged at people on the ground.” Linne reported hearing two men say that Chiefstick had said he was “going to stab someone with a screwdriver,” and felt Chiefstick was “trying to start a confrontation.”

• Jessica Luster said Chiefstick was swaying like he may have been intoxicated and seemed “out of his mind” and had “no understanding of boundaries.”

• Poulsbo Mayor Rebecca Erickson reported that she had received information that Chiefstick was “tweaking really badly,” and she asked police to handle the situation.

Poulsbo Officer Michael Miulli and Reserve Officer Tracy Powell contacted Chiefstick after receiving reports of Chiefstick being “possibly high on narcotics.”According to Miulli’s supplemental report:“I had a hard time understanding him. I could smell an odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath.”But there was insufficient information to detain him.

Officers spoke with Chiefstick later, after more complaints, but again there was no reason to detain him.

At approximately 9:15 p.m., Gil was approached by a citizen who reported that a man had threatened her significant other with a screwdriver. Keller radioed for help.

Keller activated his body camera and monitored the subject, later identified as Chiefstick, until other officers arrived.

On his body-cam video, Keller calls out, “Lee…Lee”, in which he appeared to be getting the attention of Wheeler to direct him toward Chiefstick.

Officers approached Chiefstick, and Keller ordered him to remove his hands from his pocket. Chiefstick said, “Chill out, chill out” and pulled away from the officers.

During the struggle, Keller’s camera fell to the ground; however, it continued to record video and audio. Keller’s body camera captured commands, such as, “screwdriver”. It also captured officers yelling, “get on the f——— ground”.

The video captures brief moments of Keller with his weapon drawn, then two shots were heard, striking Chiefstick in the chest and face. No other officers fired their weapons.

Chiefstick was to be airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle; however, he died prior to transport, the report says.

At least one witness, Kate Kilroy, said she doesn’t think Keller should go back on the job. She said Chiefstick was surrounded by police who could have detained him. She said Chiefstick was a big man, Keller got scared and overreacted.

Kilroy said she has long been a supporter of police, but decisions like this are why police are getting a bad reputation nationwide. She said she doesn’t blame the entire department for the actions of one officer.

She said it was fortunate the bullets hit their marks because: “There were children everywhere. It was so reckless. Those shots could have gone anywhere.”

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