Chiefstick’s family gets $2 million in lawsuit against Poulsbo

Poulsbo has settled the federal civil rights and state wrongful death lawsuits brought by the estate of Stonechild Chiefstick on behalf of his six children for $2 million, a news release from family lawyer Galanda Broadman PLLC says.

Chiefstick was shot in the head and killed July 3, 2019 at Poulsbo Waterfront Park amid hundreds of people who were gathered to watch the city’s fireworks display. He was 39 when he was killed by Poulsbo police officer Craig Keller.

“This settlement is part of accountability. It sends a message across this county that law enforcement must prioritize the preservation of life,” said Trishandra Pickup, a Suquamish Tribal member and mother to four of Chiefstick’s children. “It also says that Stoney’s life stood for something and that all Indigenous lives matter.”

The settlement does not fully resolve the matter into Chiefstick’s killing. Gov. Jay Inslee has promised Pickup and Chiefstick’s children that he will urge the state’s new office of independent investigations to proceed with a new criminal homicide investigation into the use of deadly force by Keller. That office was authorized by the state legislature in 2021, is currently being established, and will begin after July 1.

In the wake of the killing, Pickup has emerged as a leading Indigenous voice for police reform. As a member of a statewide coalition that seeks to change police culture to reduce violence and address over-policing of Indigenous people and people of color, she played a major role in the passage of police accountability legislation in 2021. Inslee recently appointed her to serve on the state Criminal Justice Training Commission.

The experiences of families like Chiefstick’s were the basis for new laws that established statewide standards for use of physical force and established the office for independent criminal investigations.

Pickup, who conducts her public service in memory of her children’s father in the hope that others might avoid the trauma and loss suffered by her and her family, looks forward to the state’s investigation into Chiefstick’s killing. “Our quest for truth and justice is not over,” she said.

Chiefstick was a member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana from his father’s side, and his mother is a Cowichan from Duncan, British Columbia. He was raised in Seattle, where he attended Beacon Hill Elementary and Rainier Beach High School. He has kinship ties to the Suquamish Tribe and lived for many years in Suquamish.

An official comment from the Suquamish Tribe says: “The Suquamish Tribe is encouraged that the joint efforts of the children of Stonechild Chiefstick and the city of Poulsbo have reached a settlement of the civil lawsuit. This is a step toward mending our relationship with the city and the community.”

A statement from the city of Poulsbo reads: “We recognize the deep pain the Chiefstick family and tribal members have suffered, and we regret and empathize with their loss. We hope this settlement will help the family and our respective communities begin to heal and move forward with mutual respect.”