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Portland on edge after suspect in weekend killing is fatally shot by police

A crime lab worker in Lacey, Wash., looks at evidence markers in the early  hours of Friday after law enforcement officers fatally shot the man suspected of killing a far-right activist a week ago in Portland, Ore.
A crime lab worker in Lacey, Wash., looks at evidence markers in the early hours of Friday after law enforcement officers fatally shot the man suspected of killing a far-right activist a week ago in Portland, Ore. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

PORTLAND, Ore. — The fatal shooting by law enforcement of a far-left activist who was suspected of killing a far-right activist renewed tensions in this city Friday, as investigators sought to learn more about both incidents and officials braced for further unrest.

There were more questions than answers even as prosecutors released a lengthy arrest affidavit detailing what witnesses had said and video had revealed about the initial killing last weekend.

Dueling demonstrations are expected in the region in coming days. A racial-justice protest is set for Saturday and a pro-Trump event honoring 39-year-old Aaron "Jay" Danielson, a supporter of the far right Patriot Prayer group who was shot dead a week ago, is planned for Monday.

On Friday night, police and protesters briefly clashed with law enforcement outside a Portland police union building. Police deployed munitions and tear gas and detained at least several demonstrators. Protesters grew angry after one young woman, forcefully detained, emerged with a bloody face and was taken away in an ambulance.

On Sept. 3, law enforcement killed Michael Forest Reinoehl in Olympia, Wash. Reinoehl was a suspect in the Aug. 29 shooting of Aaron J. Danielson in Portland. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Caitlin Ochs/Reuters/The Washington Post)

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) said earlier in the day at a news briefing that she remained concerned about more violence and urged calm.

"There needs to be a community-wide effort to stop the violence," she said. "Because the violence must stop. Period."

Suspect in Portland slaying killed when authorities moved to arrest him

Portland has experienced more than three consecutive months of protests against police brutality, with some of the demonstrations descending into destruction and mayhem. But the tension intensified when a caravan of President Trump's supporters drove through the city in trucks, sparking skirmishes with those who objected to their presence.

After one of those confrontations, Danielson was shot and killed on the street, and police soon identified as their top suspect 48-year-old Michael Forest Reinoehl, an ardent supporter of the far-left antifa movement who has been a fixture at the nightly protests. Then on Thursday, officers working on a federal task force shot and killed Reinoehl as they moved in to arrest him as he approached a vehicle in the southern part of Washington state, about two hours north of Portland.

Both shootings remain mired in confusing and incomplete accounts. Reinoehl, a construction contractor and former professional snowboarder, claimed in an interview that aired on "Vice News Tonight" Thursday that he acted to defend himself and a friend in the shooting that left Danielson dead, all but admitting that he had pulled the trigger.

"I was confident that I did not hit anyone innocent, and I made my exit," Reinoehl told Vice News when asked about what happened immediately after the incident.

"I see a civil war right around the corner," he added later. "That shot felt like the beginning of a war."

But Chandler Pappas, a friend of Danielson's who was with him during the incident, has said it "didn't even register that somebody was pointing a gun at us until the shots went off." He has claimed that whoever fired the shots "recognized our Patriot Prayer hats" and that just before the gunfire, he heard someone say, "We've got a couple of 'em right here. Pull it out. Pull it out."

The affidavit released Friday details what investigators had found in Danielson's killing. Police interviewed at least five people who saw some portion of the incident and reviewed video footage, the document says, but their accounts stopped far short of providing a cohesive narrative.

Investigators found on Danielson's body a loaded, holstered gun that they do not think was fired during the incident, as well as an expandable metal baton nearby, according to the affidavit. They also recovered from the scene a canister of "Bear Attack Deterrent" that seemed to have been hit by a bullet.

One witness, who knew Danielson, told investigators he heard a Black man say, "We're going to [expletive] kill you," saw Danielson pull out a can of mace, then heard two gunshots," according to the affidavit. Another witness said he saw a Black man turn to another person and say, "Hey there's the guy." The witness said he then saw Danielson spray mace and heard two gunshots, according to the affidavit.

Pappas told investigators he and Danielson were facing off with two people and one of those people fired a weapon, according to the affidavit.

In one chilling detail contained in the affidavit, a Portland police detective wrote that surveillance footage showed Reinoehl looking back toward Danielson and walking into a garage entryway to conceal himself as he watched Danielson walk by. Danielson is seen on the camera walking by, apparently holding a can in his right hand and an expandable baton in his left. Seconds after he passes, Reinoehl emerges, reaching toward his waist. Shortly after, the detective writes, the gunfire rang out but the shooting was not captured on the video.

What video analysis of the Aug. 29 Portland shooting tells us

Videos of the incident that have circulated online have also offered little clarity. In one video, men can be heard shouting, followed in rapid succession by the sound of something spraying and then two gunshots. In another video, shouts of "We got a couple right here" and what sounds like "He's pulling it out" can be heard before the gunfire. On Friday, Portland police released a picture of a man who they said witnessed the incident, indicating they were seeking the public's help in locating him and were still investigating Danielson's killing.

Trump has praised his supporters who have descended on the city while lashing out at local leaders. Attorney General William P. Barr issued a fiery statement Friday calling Reinoehl a "a dangerous fugitive, admitted antifa member, and suspected murderer" who was shot by law enforcement after he "attempted to escape arrest and produced a firearm."

"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," Barr said.

Activists who knew Reinoehl disputed that account, describing Reinoehl as a protector over the past several months of protests who was inspired to join because he believed in equality.

Elizabeth Pruden, 38, of Salem, said Reinoehl stuck out easily in the crowd of demonstrators because he brought his young daughter. She said she got to know Reinoehl several weeks ago when protesters regrouped outside a downtown Apple Store to avoid police.

"Like a lot of us, he came into it with a lot of weight on his shoulders and not being the best person he felt like he could be," Pruden said. "Through the protesting and all the trauma bonding we all went through, he saw himself growing. He saw himself becoming a better father and a better human being. He was becoming a protector."

Some activists said the death of Reinoehl — particularly when compared with the comparatively uneventful arrest of Kyle Rittenhouse on charges of killing two protesters last month in Kenosha, Wis. — risked inflaming tensions on the streets of Portland.

"If the cops want this to stop, how is coming out here and killing us helping? That's literally why we are out here," said Teal Lindseth, protest organizer who met Reinoehl at a gathering outside the county jail early on in the demonstrations. "They aren't giving us a day in court and are shooting us before asking questions."

Lindseth and a fellow activist Ronan Williams said protesters who gathered Thursday night after learning of Reinoehl's death were despondent and more irritable while confronting police. The coming days, they said, were laced with uncertainty.

"It could literally by the start of something bad or something amazingly nice," said Lindseth

Reinoehl's Instagram page indicates that he had been attending Black Lives Matter demonstrations in recent months, and he told Bloomberg News in July he was "working security" to protect people in the crowd.

In a lengthy post on June 16, he wrote that he was "100% ANTIFA all the way!" and hinted of violence. "I am willing to fight for my brothers and sisters! Even if some of them are too ignorant to realize what antifa truly stands for. We do not want violence but we will not run from it either!" he wrote.

His friends, though, said that did not reflect his character and that he did not appear to be part of any organized antifa groups.

"He never meant to personally harm someone but to protect us," Lindseth said. "I've never even see him be violent."

Fears of further unrest after Portland shooting, as police reveal few details

It is unclear where Reinoehl went after last Saturday's shooting, or when he was interviewed by Vice News. But on Thursday at about 7:30 p.m., members of the U.S. Marshals Service Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force caught up with him in a quiet, residential area near Olympia, Wash., according to a statement from the U.S. Marshals Service.

The Marshals Service said officers were trying to arrest him on a murder warrant for the Portland shooting, and, "initial reports indicate the suspect produced a firearm, threatening the lives of law enforcement officers." Reinoehl was fatally shot, authorities said.

Portland police on Friday said in a statement that their officers had obtained an arrest warrant for him a day earlier on two charges stemming from Danielson's death — a charge of murder in the second degree with a firearm and unlawful use of a weapon, also with a firearm. Law enforcement officials on Thursday also sought a search warrant for his home, where officials found evidence, including the clothes Reinoehl wore during the shooting, authorities said.

Portland police noted their officers were not present when Reinoehl was shot "and defer questions about that incident to agencies involved."

Lt. Ray Brady of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, which is leading the investigation into the shooting, said that officers were surveilling Reinoehl as he left an apartment complex and confronted him as he made his way to a vehicle. He said Reinoehl was armed and officers fired shots into the vehicle, then — after Reinoehl fled — fired more shots.

In total, four officers fired shots, Brady said in an interview Friday. These officers were from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, the city of Lakewood’s police force and the Washington State Department of Corrections, and they were all part of a federal task force run by the Marshals, he said.

Trevor Brown, 24, who lives nearby, said he heard gunfire, got up, and saw three or four officers pointing long guns and wearing body armor. He said he could not see whomever they were aiming at. In total, he said, he heard roughly 10 shots — first three that were fired slowly, then a more rapid volley. He said he did not hear anyone say anything, though he might have been too far away to have done so.

“Nobody seemed to know who he was,” Brown said of Reinoehl. “I have no idea what his connection was with the people out here.”

Brady said Friday that while “multiple” bullet casings were recovered at the scene, it was too soon to say how many rounds struck Reinoehl or were fired during the encounter. Reinoehl’s autopsy should take place sometime in the middle of next week, which should provide more information, Brady said. The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office found that Reinoehl had “a semiautomatic handgun” that was found “immediately on his person,” Brady said, but he did not know whether Reinoehl fired any shots or brandished the weapon.

Brady said he also did not know how investigators tracked Reinoehl to the area.

“We do know that he was at an apartment in that complex,” Brady said. “But we don’t know yet at this time what brought him there, what the ties are between the residents and him.”

When the sheriff’s office finishes its investigation, the case will be sent to the Thurston County prosecuting attorney, Brady said. But he cautioned that there is “quite a bit of evidence and other documentation in this case,” so it could take at least a few months.

Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.