POULSBO — The sound of pounding drums and shouts for justice rang through the streets of downtown Poulsbo on Saturday, Aug. 10, as protesters gathered to march in honor of Stonechild Chiefstick.
Chiefstick, a member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe with ties to the Suquamish Tribe, was shot and killed by Poulsbo police officer Craig Keller after an altercation at Muriel Iverson Williams Waterfront Park during pre- Independence Day festivities on July 3.
According to eyewitness reports taken by police, Chiefstick had been behaving strangely and had lunged at people, including a child, with a screwdriver. When approached by police, a struggle ensued. At some point during the struggle, Keller fired his weapon at Chiefstick, striking him in the torso and the head.
Keller also reportedly lost his body camera during the struggle.
This incident is putting to the test new legislation as it pertains to police de-escalation training, as well as department accountability for deadly use of force. The legislation calls for an independent investigation, which has been underway in the hours following the incident.
The Kitsap County Incident Response Team (KCIRT) comprising law enforcement officials from Bremerton, Port Orchard, Kingston, Bainbridge Island and the Washington State Patrol is conducting the investigation.
Despite reported rising mistrust in law enforcement, the Poulsbo Police, Suquamish Tribal and Washington State Patrol shut down streets in downtown Poulsbo to guide the protesters to Poulsbo City Hall where a demonstration took place.
As the protesters walked the streets, they chanted “No justice, no peace,” and “Say his name, Stonechild Chiefstick!” and called for the City of Poulsbo and the Poulsbo Police Department to fire, arrest and charge the officer with murder.
Many of the protesters believe Keller’s actions were racially motivated.
There were also calls for more transparency with the investigation, from which there have been no updates since the release of the officer’s name on Aug. 1.
The protest made its way to Poulsbo City Hall, where Chiefstick’s family members and friends spoke.
The most affecting speakers were those that knew Chiefstick personally, including Rita and James Old Coyote, who had known Chiefstick since he was a child. Lydia Sigo, who had been neighbors with Chiefstick in Suquamish, and Cassandra George, a teacher to Chiefstick’s children, also spoke to the demonstrators.
James Old Coyote spoke first in front of Poulsbo City Hall.
“We want to know what’s going on behind these doors. What’s going on with the investigation. What’s going on with the cameras that the police officers were wearing. We know that one camera malfunctioned, but what about the four or five other cops that were there?” Old Coyote said.
Old Coyote and the speakers that followed him shared how this incident has brought the community together to demand change.
“The family is still trying to heal from the injustice that has been done to their father,” Old Coyote said.
”Leaders need to come out here and answer why and explain to us what is going on. At the same time, we have community leaders and people here that have words to uplift the family and somehow bring justice.”
Old Coyote’s mother Rita Old Coyote, who spoke at the Poulsbo City Council meeting earlier in the week, reiterated her comments.
“I see everything that is going on in this country. I see what is going on in this city of Poulsbo. I grew up here and I lived with racism here. So have my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” she said.
“There is no doubt, no doubt in my mind, that if Stoney were white, he would not be dead right now. I am angry about that and white people in this community need to be angry, too, and do something about it,” she added.
Rita Old Coyote also stated that racism is a “white person’s problem and that people of color are the victims of it.
“You make choices based on the color of our skin, while you are protected by the color of yours,” she added.
Lydia Sigo called into question the witness statements that led to the police being called to the scene, saying the statements do not match what she knew and what the community knew about Chiefstick.
“What we know about Stoney is that he would never threaten a child,” Sigo said.
Sigo and Chiefstick had been neighbors at Sackman Tribal Housing area in Suquamish.
“We knew we could let our kids out to play because Stoney would make sure they were safe. That’s the Stoney we know. We will not stand for the media and the police trying to slander his name. What happened here was wrong and we will not let Poulsbo forget about it. They will answer for what they did and the way they have treated this family,” Sigo said.
Cassandra George, who teaches some of Chiefstick’s children, said that as a teacher, she has to remain hopeful, even when her students tell her they want to work in law enforcement.
“As a teacher, I have children tell me what they want to be when they grow up,” George said. “When they say a police officer, I get scared for them, because I know they are more likely to be shot or arrested by a police officer than they are to become one. I wish I was wrong about that.”
George also highlighted new legislation created by Initiative 940 and House Bill 1064, which went into effect July 1, by reading the legislative directive verbatim. She particularly focused on the part of the law that dictates police accountability in cases in which deadly force is used.
“A law officer shall not be held criminally liable for deadly use of force if the officer meets the ‘good faith standard.’ Good faith is an objective standard, which shall consider all of the facts, circumstances and information available to the officer at the time to determine whether a reasonable officer would believe that the use of deadly force was necessary,” George read to the crowd.
George called on the community to pay close attention to the investigation because of this new legislation.
“If a reasonable officer feels that the use of deadly force was necessary, Officer Keller will not be criminally charged,” she said.