Poulsbo officer will not face charges in fatal July 3 shooting

Craig Keller is expected to return to work next week

Poulsbo Police Officer Craig Keller will not be facing criminal charges after a July 3 shooting at a crowded fireworks show in downtown Poulsbo last year that claimed the life of Stonechild Chiefstick.

During Poulsbo’s annual July 3 fireworks display at Muriel Iverson Williams Waterfront Park, Chiefstick was shot twice by Keller, following multiple contacts with other officers present at the event. According to investigation materials and witness testimony, Chiefstick had threatened multiple attendees at the event, using a screwdriver. Moments before the shooting, Keller made contact with Chiefstick and a scuffle ensued in which Keller’s body camera — which had been recording — was knocked free. Only seconds after the camera is knocked free, a voice can be heard on the recording advising that Chiefstick was holding a screwdriver, before two shots are fired.

In a Friday morning statement from Kitsap County Prosecuting Attorney Chad Enright, Keller’s use of deadly force was determined to be justified (under RCW 9A.16.040) based on the entirety of investigation materials, witness statements and evidence gathered.

Additionally Enright noted that attempts by investigators to find evidence of racial bias on Keller’s part, were unsuccessful.

“Officer Craig Keller’s law enforcement career began with the Port Gamble – S’Klallam Tribal Police Department in February of 2014 … the KCIRT investigation revealed no instances of allegations or complaints of racially biased conduct in Officer Keller’s employment history,” the statement reads. “There is also no evidence to suggest that Officer Keller had a specific bias against Mr. Chiefstick.”

The shooting of Chiefstick — who was a member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe, based in Box Elder, Montana — served to inflame tensions between the City of Poulsbo and the Native American community. Public comment periods during weekly city council meetings were often dominated by citizens calling for police accountability, transparency and demands for Keller’s resignation.

Poulsbo Police Chief Dan Schoonmaker said Keller will be returning to work sometime next week. Now that the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office has rendered a decision, Schoonmaker said the Poulsbo Police Department will conduct a separate investigation to determine whether Keller adhered to departmental standards in the July 3 shooting.

When asked to describe the mood in his department Friday morning, the police chief hesitated.

“There’s not an adjective to describe it, there’s really no good word for it.” Schoonmaker said, noting that officers were not celebrating the decision. “This event is a tragedy, nobody woke up on July 3 wanting this to happen,” the chief continued. “The emotion and the feelings of what community members had to witness was certainly tough and it doesn’t go away because of the prosecutor’s findings. We just move on to the next phase, we continue to improve and provide the best possible service to this community.”

Craig is a man of great character, he’s a great police officer and we are proud to have him with this department. To have him back and out on patrol is going to help all of us.”

The chief also thanked the public for their patience, support and dialogue throughout the ordeal.

“I appreciate their patience and their trust in the process and we are always open to opinions and input,” Schoonmaker said. “We have received unbelievable support that reaffirms our officer’s commitment to the community.”