Released Portland police documents reveal new details about deadly summer protest

By Conrad Wilson (OPB)
Jan. 7, 2021 2 p.m.

Within hours after the Aug. 29 shooting in downtown Portland that left a Trump supporter dead, police were emailing photos to officers of a possible suspect: Michael Forest Reinoehl, a 48-year-old self-professed anti-fascist.

Aided by social media, tips and officers who had previously arrested Reinoehl weeks earlier, detectives quickly zeroed in on their suspect, according to case documents released to Oregon Public Broadcasting through a public records request.


The documents provide several new details about the shooting investigation, including that police found a “pipe bomb” on the trunk of a vehicle in Reinoehl’s driveway in the days following the downtown slaying. The documents also confirm Reinoehl’s home was shot following the killing.

Though Reinoehl was quickly suspected, police continued to investigate. Five days after the shooting, prosecutors charged Reinoehl with the murder of Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a member of Patriot Prayer.

For years, supporters at opposing ends of the political spectrum have openly brawled at street protests in Portland, but the Aug. 29 vehicle rally in support of President Trump proved particularly tense following a summer filled with protests and mounting tensions ahead of the November election.

Danielson’s killing took place at the end of a day that had seen a convoy of hundreds of Trump supporters drive through downtown, at times clashing with counterdemonstrators.

Paramedics work on Aaron "Jay" Danielson, who was shot and killed during a pro-Trump caravan in downtown Portland on August 30, 2020. Danielson was a member of Patriot Prayer, a group known for engaging in violence during right wing demonstrations.

Paramedics work on Aaron "Jay" Danielson, who was shot and killed during a pro-Trump caravan in downtown Portland on August 30, 2020. Danielson was a member of Patriot Prayer, a group known for engaging in violence during right wing demonstrations.

Jonathan Levinson / OPB

“There were active demonstrations going on throughout the City,” Officer Jade Lowery wrote in a report. “Per operational orders we were to stay out of sight and allow the demonstrators and protesters to express their emotions.”

During a few confrontations between groups, Lowery said the squad would show up and “restore civil order.”

One of the officers in charge that night was Lt. Jeff Niiya. Seconds before two shots were fired, Niiya and Commander Art Nakamura drove by SW 3rd and Alder in an unmarked police SUV. In his report, Niiya noted he saw a man in a grey shirt jaywalking, presumably Danielson. Nakamura stated he saw the man carrying bear spray and wearing a hat with a “subdued” American flag. Danielson had on a Patriot Prayer hat and carried bear spray at the time he was shot.

Almost immediately after driving past the scene, Niiya said he heard two pops, but was not sure if they were fireworks or gunshots.

Following the Aug. 29 shooting in downtown Portland, police said they received dozens of emails from community members with tips “obtained and garnered from open-source social media platforms,” wrote Det. Rico Beniga, who led the investigation.

The day after the shooting, Beniga spoke to the ex-husband of a woman who had dated Reinoehl for several years. The man told Beniga that his ex texted him that Reinoehl “alleged he had been shot at, so he fired back and killed someone.” The ex denied to police she had any communication with Reinoehl or knowledge of the shooting.

Also the day after the shooting, Beniga said he spoke with Reinoehl’s sister, who confirmed her brother’s identity as the person identified on social media sites and message boards. Reinoehl had been estranged from his family for about three years.


Officer Jeffrey Dorn reported to work around 9 p.m. on Aug. 29, roughly 15 minutes after the shooting. He stated in a report that “upon arriving to work” PPB sent out photos of a possible suspect.

Dorn stated that initial images were hard to make out, but that he could tell it was a thin, white adult male.

“I immediately thought of an individual that I had arrested during a declared riot on July 4 who was in possession of a firearm during one of the nightly protests,” Dorn wrote. Later in his shift, another officer told Dorn that on social media “there was chatter about an individual named Michael Reinoehl as being the shooter.”

Video not included in the police documents but reviewed by OPB shows Reinoehl and Danielson both at a rally in Camas, Washington the day before the shooting in Portland. The video was shot by Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson.

There’s no evidence the two met or interacted before the killing. But the video shows Reinoehl in a white shirt, black hat and sunglasses, talking with demonstrators who are holding American flags. In other parts of the video, Danielson can be seen on his mountain board, a kind of electric skateboard he often rode around protests.

The documents released by Portland police also contain information about Reinoehl’s Sept. 3 death after he was shot and killed by members of a federal fugitive task force in Lacy, Washington.

A man in a zippered blue jacket and knit hat looks into the camera.

Michael Reinoehl said he acted to defend another person when he shot and killed Aaron “Jay” Danielson at a pro-Trump rally in Portland.

Screenshot obtained by OPB/ProPublica

Within hours, Portland police detectives and a prosecutor from the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office arrived at the scene. They were there when a member of the Thurston County Coroner’s office recovered a .380 semi-automatic pistol from Reinoehl’s front right pants pocket. It matched one of the types of guns a forensic scientist at the Oregon State Police Crime Lab thought may have been used in Danielson’s murder, Beniga wrote. As of October, the gun was still being analyzed by the Washington state crime lab and traced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The pants Reinoehl had on when he was killed looked to be the same, or similar, to the ones he wore during the Portland homicide, Beniga stated.

After he was killed, police searched Reinoehl’s apartment in Portland. They recovered clothes that also matched what police saw the shooting suspect wearing in surveillance footage the night of Danielson’s killing. Police reported they found .380 caliber ammunition and an empty Winchester box of the same caliber.

Reinoehl had been facing eviction on the day of the shooting after his landlord, a high school counselor, caught around six teenagers smoking cannabis in the home days earlier.

Reinoehl’s teenage son and middle school aged daughter were at the apartment the night of the shooting. As word spread online about Reinoehl’s possible involvement in Danielson’s killing, some people called for revenge.

The documents point to potential vigilante violence targeted toward Reinoehl’s home after Danielson was killed. They confirm Reinoehl’s house was shot at after the downtown slaying. OPB and ProPublica previously reported the shooting.

Officers also saw a potential homemade explosive device at the Reinoehl residence when they executed a search warrant on Sept. 3, hours after Reinoehl was killed in Lacy. The documents provide few details about the thin, 12 inch-long explosive device police found on a car in Reinoehl’s driveway. A green, five-inch long fuse stuck out of the middle of the device that was wrapped in black electrical tape.

“It appeared to me to be a possible pipe bomb,” James Defrain, a supervisor on the Tactical Operations Division’s Explosive Disposal Unit. The next day he determined the powered inside was “energetic material” after it was flame tested. “The item appeared to be a functional fused PVC pipe bomb.”

The documents do not state where the potential explosive came from or who its intended target might have been.