Poulsbo officer cleared in shooting death, to be reinstated

Poulsbo police officer Craig Keller will be going back to work after an independent investigation shows his actions in the shooting death of Stonechild Chiefstick July 3, 2019 were within department policy and procedure.

The Kitsap Critical Incident Response Team’s investigation and 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 behavior health training and programs.

The report says:

The shooting occurred last year at the city’s July 4 celebration on the Liberty Bay waterfront. 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, 39.

•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 a hospital; 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.”