Nearly three years after the fatal shooting of Stonechild Chiefstick, Suquamish Tribe and city officials met at Poulsbo City Hall Wednesday.
It was the first time since the tribe suspended governmental relationships with the city in 2020 after the Native American man with ties to the tribe was shot and killed by Poulsbo police officer Craig Keller during the city’s July 3, 2019, fireworks celebration.
“It’s been a long time,” Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman said. “Of course, this had a huge impact on the Suquamish Tribe and our community. There was a wound that was made in our relationship, and we’re hopeful we can start healing that. I think it’s started but there will always be a scar.”
Since 2005, Poulsbo and Suquamish councils have met regularly to discuss issues of mutual concern, such as the environment, fishing rights, growth management, education and public safety, a tribal news release says.
“Later events added salt to the wound,” the release states. “Chiefstick’s makeshift memorial at Poulsbo’s waterfront park was repeatedly desecrated, once by a Port of Poulsbo commissioner” (Mark DeSalvo), “who was arrested (but not charged) for a drunken tirade against Native Americans.
Also, “The officer who shot and killed Chiefstick was not criminally charged by the Kitsap County prosecutor nor disciplined by the city of Poulsbo, and remains on the force. Tribal community members and others who brought concerns to city leaders felt unheard and dismissed.”
In the news release, the Suquamish Council listed some important steps the city has taken to help mend their relationship, including:
- The city hiring new Police Chief Ron Harding, who has taken significant action to reshape community policing culture. His policies require extra hours of in-depth training (funded by the city), emphasizing de-escalation, crisis intervention, implicit bias, cultural awareness, compassion for those struggling with mental health and/or addiction, less-lethal tools, and using force only as a last resort. He and the city increased their previous halftime Behavioral Navigator, social worker Jamie Young, to full-time. She works with officers to understand and respond effectively during encounters with those affected by trauma, poverty, mental illness, and substance addiction; she coordinates closely with the CARES program (below).
- In partnership with the Poulsbo Fire Department (and others), the city launched CARES, a proactive multi-disciplinary intervention program that responds to individuals struggling with behavioral health issues. It helps them obtain care for medical, mental health, substance abuse disorders and other needs. The city’s Housing, Health and Human Services director, Kim Hendrickson, has been instrumental in coordinating with the police department and CARES to enhance first responders’ abilities to prevent their encounters with the public from turning deadly.
- The city responded positively to calls for public art at the Highway 305-Johnson Parkway roundabout to include visual acknowledgments of the Suquamish presence in this region with original native art and language.
- The city’s $2 million settlement of a civil lawsuit brought by Chiefstick’s family.
- The city has issued statements acknowledging the suffering endured by Chiefstick’s family and the community at large.
- The city has become an active member of the Government Alliance for Racial Equity, which comprises government leaders nationwide striving to combat racial injustice and to make their governments more diverse and equitable.
“There’s still some wounds that are out there, but to pretend like Suquamish and the city of Poulsbo can go forever without interacting I think would be shortsighted,” Suquamish Councilmember Sammy Mabe said. “We’re too close of neighbors and have too many common interests…I still feel like there’s a lot of work to be done, maybe a little more aggressively at times.
“I understand the bureaucracy and the politics that are involved in police shootings,” Mabe continued. “I don’t always agree with them. A man was shot and killed in a very public way. To this day, I don’t think there was enough done to de-escalate the situation.”
Poulsbo Councilmember Ed Stern spoke about how both entities can move forward.
“We have been the closest of neighbors, certainly geographically, for the last 150 years of your thousands of years of history,” Stern said. “Let us earn back that special relationship. It’s always been an honor to have a municipal corporation have a direct relationship with a domestic sovereign nation.
“We acknowledge and regret the immense pain and shock in both of our communities, and beyond,” Stern went on to say. “Native American lives matter in Poulsbo, in Kitsap County, in Washington state and throughout our shared creator’s Earth. Let us work to be the closest of neighbors again.”
Later in the meeting, Harding and Hendrickson spoke about de-escalation tactics.
“If we’re going to make a real difference in the lives of people struggling with behavioral health issues, it’s got to go beyond what police and fire do,” Hendrickson said. “We are lacking in services in North Kitsap and because of these lack of services people are relying on 9-1-1 when they shouldn’t have to. It’s not acceptable.”
To watch the meeting, go to https://vimeo.com/725727051.