In an interview with investigators of the July 3 officer-involved shooting, two witnesses claim they saw Stonechild Chiefstick drop what appeared to be the screwdriver he allegedly threatened people with before being shot by Poulsbo police officer Craig Keller.
In the hundreds of pages of witness interviews following the July 3 shooting, one element of the unfolding investigation and witness testimonies remained much the same: that Stonechild Chiefstick had been carrying a screwdriver and had allegedly threatened and lunged at people, including police officers with it, prompting the use of lethal force by Keller.
However, according to witness testimony released on Dec. 17, two witnesses say Chiefstick appeared to drop the screwdriver after tripping over people while trying to evade officers following a brief scuffle, only moments before being shot.
An interview with the witnesses was released by the Kitsap Critical Incident Response Team (KCIRT) as part of an ongoing Freedom of Information Act request by the North Kitsap Herald.
The interview was conducted by Detective Tim Keeler of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office on July 17. The witnesses told the detective that they knew Keller on a personal level before recounting their time in the park before, during and after the shooting took place.
One of the witnesses said when they arrived at the park, they tried to make contact with Keller to wish him a happy 4th of July, but realized in speaking with him that he was “in cop mode, not friend mode.” The witness stated that Keller had told him there had been someone in the park threatening people with a screwdriver that he needed to keep an eye on.
About 45 minutes later the witness stated that he saw Keller and three other officers approach Chiefstick and a scuffle ensued, when Chiefstick broke away from the officers he appeared trip over people in an effort to get away from the officers, at which point Keller drew his weapon and reportedly shouted multiple commands at Chiefstick to get on the ground and drop his weapon. According to the witness’ statement, when Chiefstick got up, he appeared to be searching his pocket for something and in doing so began advancing toward Keller before he fired.
Both witnesses in the interview noted that they had seen an item go flying from Chiefstick’s hand when he tripped, only moments before he was shot.
“Did he have something in his hand, like a weapon like that I don’t know, I did see something go flying when he hit the people — and I assume it was a screwdriver — hit the cart path and roll around. I don’t know if he meant to go and look for it or was trying to find it, but a screwdriver of some sort went flying through the air when he tripped over the kids and landed on them,” the witness said.
Another witness in the same interview told the detective that Chiefstick quickly got up and turned back toward the officers instead of running away after tripping.
“He looked like he was ready to attack, like he fell down and then he got up, he could have ran away, but he got up and turned right back towards the officers. I couldn’t tell if he was just trying to get himself together because he had just splatted on the ground and was trying to like, find something or other, but he got up and he was aggressive and ready to go at them again,” the witness said.
This witness also stated that they too had seen something go flying when Chiefstick tripped, which the witness initially believed to be knife. In the interview, the witness also noted that of the four officers that had surrounded Chiefstick in the park, Keller was the only officer with his weapon drawn.
“The only one I saw with a gun out was [Keller] like he was right in my line of sight,” the witness said.
After the shooting occurred, both witnesses reported seeing Keller escorted away from the scene and described him as looking shaken up, while other officers surrounded Chiefstick and rendered what aid they could.
This interview is particularly significant given Kitsap County Prosecutor Chad Enright’s announcement on Dec. 17 that he will be extending the review time of the investigation in order to conduct follow-up interviews and review a complete toxicology report.
The prosecutor will determine whether or not Keller will face criminal charges in this case.