While the Poulsbo City Council had a very light agenda for its July 17 meeting, the public comment period was heavy with continued commentary on the city’s handling of a fatal July 3 officer-involved shooting.
Many of the commenters during the July 17 meeting were not from Poulsbo but rather surrounding areas and had friends or family that live in the city.
The first commenter was Lydia Sigo, a member of the Suquamish Tribe, who knew Stonechild Chiefstick, the man killed in the July 3 incident.
Sigo was one of the most critical of the evening’s commenters, particularly with regard to the City of Poulsbo’s decision to continue on with the July 3 fireworks show immediately after the shooting.
“I do not know why the city of Poulsbo chose to continue with the fireworks show after my friend was shot and surrounded by police,” Sigo said.
“I want to know why, from the city council, you chose to continue with the fireworks celebration, that’s supposed to, I guess, honor this flag and what it stands for — which is constitutional rights; rights to be secure in our persons and rights to due process under the law. These are supposed to be the highest laws of the land. As a Native American, we have not had our treaty rights honored,” Sigo said.
Sigo also noted that she, like many Native Americans, does not recognize the Fourth of July holiday. She also noted that she will not recognize the holiday until she sees that Native American rights are valued just as much as others.
Sigo also shared her experiences with harassment from members of law enforcement.
“This is why we say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ and ‘Native Lives Matter,’ because we have to. If it was the officer that had been shot, we know the shooter would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, because their lives matter. They don’t need to say ‘Blue Lives Matter,’ because we know they do,” Sigo said.
“We don’t see that Stoney’s life mattered in the way that the city has treated this,” she added.
Sigo also asked if there were any tapes of the incident.
The North Kitsap Herald recently learned from Captain Tom Wolfe of the Bremerton Police department, which is part of the independent investigation team, that the officer involved in the shooting’s body camera had fallen off during a struggle with Chiefstick. The status of the footage on the camera, as well as that of other officers on scene, is still unknown.
The identity of the officer involved in the shooting is also still unknown, a fact that struck a chord for a few commenters.
Chris Height from Jefferson County, stated that the whole incident still has her in a state of disbelief, but furious with the lack of transparency on behalf of the Poulsbo Police Department.
“I continue to be in disbelief of the whole thing, but especially as the identity of the officer involved has not been released. But we all know that he is on paid administrative leave,” Height said.
Another piece that came up as a point of contention was Mayor Erickson and the city council’s slow response to the incident. Erickson and other council members did their best to explain, placing the blame on Initiative 940 (I-940) which came into full effect on July 1.
The main purpose of I-940 was to require independent investigations be conducted in officer involved shootings. Additionally it requires that law enforcement inform local tribes if the person shot by police is of a sovereign nation.
“According to the text of the statutes of the law, the only requirements are that there be an independent investigation into officer involved shootings. There is not mention on restrictions to government entities making public statements,” said Ken Woodrich, an attorney for the cities of White Salmon and Stevenson, Wash.
“I have been chided because I did not respond to this incident earlier. I couldn’t. I didn’t know the caveats of this new law. We were trying to figure out where the parameters were, what could and couldn’t we do,” Erickson said.
“Public outreach is not clearly defined in the law. That was one of the reasons I stayed silent so long. I didn’t want to, but we didn’t know what we could do or say, legally. We are trying to deal with this the best way we know how under the new law,” Erickson added.
Councilmembers reiterated Erickson’s points as well.
“We are quiet up here from a legal standpoint, we can’t even talk to our families about it really,” said Councilmember Connie Lord.
The North Kitsap Herald reached out to Mayor Erickson for further comment on I-940 as well as the recent vandalism to Chiefstick’s memorial but received no comment.