Investigators complete review of federal police shooting that killed wanted Portland activist

By Conrad Wilson (OPB)
March 31, 2021 6:28 p.m. Updated: March 31, 2021 11:24 p.m.

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday it has completed its seven-month investigation of a federally deputized task force that shot and killed Portland activist Michael Forest Reinoehl last summer.


Reinoehl, a 48-year-old self-described antifascist who was wanted for murder, was killed by law enforcement officers near Olympia on Sept. 3. According to the Thurston County investigators reviewing the case, Reinoehl “initiated” an exchange of gunfire with officers before he was killed.

The incident took place at an apartment complex in Olympia, where Reinoehl had been on the run for his suspected role in the shooting death of a pro-Trump demonstrator in Portland days earlier. Surveillance footage of that shooting obtained by OPB shows Reinoehl seeming to initiate contact with 39-year-old Aaron “Jay” Danielson outside a parking garage.

The following video gathers footage from multiple sources to show the sequence of the events surrounding Reinoehl’s shooting of Danielson in downtown Portland:

After Danielson died, Reinoehl fled Oregon.

While the investigation is complete, the sheriff’s office has not yet released the full report. On Wednesday, investigators released a two-page statement with some of their findings.

The Washington State Patrol Crime Lab matched a .380 casing found in Reinoehl’s vehicle after the police shooting to the .380 pistol in his possession. Reinoehl was the only person with a .380 caliber weapon on the scene, according to the investigator managing the case, Lt. Cameron Simper.

“The casing to that was found inside his vehicle in a position that would be consistent with him firing out that window,” Simper said.

Reinoehl did have a loaded .380 pistol on him when he was killed, but it was found inside his right front pants pocket. Despite that, investigators insist that, based on law enforcement and witness statements, they believe Reinoehl fired the round, was shot by police, and put his gun inside his pants pocket.

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

Michael Reinoehl

Screenshot obtained by OPB/ProPublica

Those investigators could not find the bullet Reinoehl allegedly shot at police.

“While it is very plausible and it does match up with the statements, we were not able to find the actual round from (Reinoehl’s pistol) to definitively say, ‘absolutely’ that he fired from that car,” Simper told OPB. “Based on our investigation, based on the witness statements, the casing in the car and officers statements, it is highly likely.”

Four law enforcement officers fired their weapons at Reinoehl that day, killing him. Simper said the officers fired 40 rounds.

The shooting followed a series of tense political protests in Northwest cities, and got the attention of then-President Trump and former Attorney General William Barr. Both men praised the law enforcement response.

“I applaud the outstanding cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement, particularly the fugitive task force team that located Reinoehl and prevented him from escaping justice,” Barr said the day after the police shooting. “The streets of our cities are safer with this violent agitator removed.”

The case is now with the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. A spokeswoman said they’re currently reviewing whether they have the authority to review the case for any possible criminal charges against officers who served on the Tacoma-based Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force and had been deputized by the U.S. Marshals Service. If not, the case would likely be sent to another county for review.

On Tuesday, law enforcement agencies with officers who shot Reinoehl were briefed on the investigation.

“There’s two parts to these incidents: you’ve got the criminal aspect of it, and you’ve got the internal aspect of it, to make sure policies and procedures were followed,” Simper said. Those policy reviews are typically completed internally by law enforcement agencies.

Simper declined to comment about the legality of the shooting or whether policies may have been violated.

Witnesses to the shooting told OPB and ProPublica in October that law enforcement did not identify themselves or warn Reinoehl before shooting. The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday it found officers were clearly identified by their vests as the shooting happened.