President Donald Trump on Thursday gloated over the September killing of Portland, Oregon, murder suspect Michael Reinoehl by law enforcement officers who had been deputized as US Marshals.
A task force involving federal, state and local law enforcement officers had been trying to arrest Reinoehl in connection with the August 29 fatal shooting of a supporter of a right-wing group in Portland, a killing that happened during clashes between pro-Trump groups and left-wing protesters.
“We sent in the US Marshals,” Trump said during a campaign rally in North Carolina, adding that it “took 15 minutes (and) it was over.”
The President immediately followed that statement by appearing to indicate that authorities had no intention of ever taking Reinoehl alive.
“They knew who he was; they didn’t want to arrest him, and in 15 minutes that ended,” Trump said. It was unclear what information he was basing his assertion on.
The comments from the President come one day after a Washington state sheriff’s office released new details on how Reinoehl’s death had unfolded and as questions swirl about whether police were justified in their use of force. The New York Times published a story earlier this week with interviews of nearly two dozen witnesses who cast doubt on the account from the sheriff’s office and raised more questions about the use of force by police in the United States.
Further, Trump’s use of “they” was unclear. He may have been reupping his criticism of local elected officials for not doing enough to quell protests. Or, perhaps more troubling, he may be been referring to the law enforcement shooting of Reinoehl as planned in advance. That raises further concerns and questions about the law enforcement response. It’s not clear, however, what the President meant, and the White House offered no clarification when asked.
The President has frequently advocated for police to use more aggressive tactics and has reveled in his political opponents, particularly protesters, being met with violence. The comments come at the same time that Trump is refusing to agree to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose in November’s presidential election.
CNN has reached out to the White House and US Marshals for clarification on the President’s remarks.
“If true, it would clearly be illegal,” said Carrie Cordero, a CNN legal analyst and former Justice Department official, when asked about the possible interpretation of Trump’s remarks as a planned effort by law enforcement to kill Reinoehl. “It would be an extrajudicial killing unless the agents involved were claiming they were acting in self-defense.”
The President’s statement Thursday was not the first time he has weighed in on the incident.
In an interview last month with Fox News, Trump spoke about the shots fired by the officers in terms of punishment against Reinoehl.
“The US Marshals went in to get him, and in a short period of time – they ended in a gunfight. This guy was a violent criminal,” Trump said, adding, “And I will tell you something: That’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution when you have crime like this.”
Sheriff’s office releases new information
Reinoehl had his hand on a partially withdrawn gun that was in his pocket when officers shot him during an attempted arrest in Washington state, the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office said on Wednesday.
According to a news release from the sheriff’s office, one officer said he believed he saw Reinoehl pull out a gun earlier during the deadly September 3 encounter outside the city of Lacey, Washington.
The information was released a day after The New York Times reported that witness accounts raised questions about whether Reinoehl had pulled out a gun or was fired on without warning.
The statement by the Thurston sheriff’s office offers more details from authorities than they initially released at time of Reinoehl’s death. At the time, the US Marshals Service said initial reports indicated Reinoehl had produced a firearm as officers tried to arrest him.
The sheriff’s office said their release is based on statements of the officers involved in the arrest attempt.
The New York Times reported that five eyewitnesses had said they never saw Reinoehl holding a weapon, and that the shooting began as soon as officers arrived in unmarked vehicles.
The sheriff’s office, which is leading the investigation into Reinoehl’s shooting, has not said what civilian witnesses have told investigators about whether they saw him armed or how soon the firing started.
Official story clashes with eyewitness reports
Reinoehl was wanted in Oregon’s Multnomah County on a charge of second-degree murder in connection with the killing of Aaron “Jay” Danielson at a protest in Portland. Asked to find him, a US Marshals task force located Reinoehl in Washington’s Lacey area, a roughly 120-mile drive to the north, the service has said.
Task force members saw Reinoehl leave a Thurston County apartment and enter a vehicle in the early evening of September 3, the sheriff’s office said.
“Mr. Reinoehl started the vehicle as officers pulled up” to it, the sheriff’s office’s release stated. The officers pulled up in two unmarked SUVs, The New York Times reported.
After one of the officers “gave verbal commands” to Reinoehl, two officers saw Reinoehl begin “reaching toward the center console of the vehicle,” the sheriff’s office says.
“One officer observed what he believed to be a handgun presented by Mr. Reinoehl toward the officers,” authorities stated in their release.
Officers fired at Reinoehl while he was in the vehicle. He then got out of the vehicle and attempted to hide behind it as officers continued to shoot, the release said. It does not say whether Reinoehl was wounded at that point.
Officers behind the vehicle “reported that (Reinoehl) continued to reach around his waistband and was attempting to manipulate his firearm,” the release stated.
Reinoehl then moved to the roadway toward two other officers, who “fired their weapons as Mr. Reinoehl had his hand near his waistband and pocket where they observed a firearm,” according to the release.
Reinoehl fell to the ground. He “still had his hand on the firearm partially withdrawn from his pocket,” the sheriff’s office said.
He died at the scene, authorities say.
A witness, Deshirlynn Chatman, told reporters last month that officers had tended to Reinoehl after he was shot.
The New York Times reported that 21 of the 22 people near the scene who the newspaper interviewed said they hadn’t heard officers identify themselves or give commands before the gunfire started. The 22nd person said he heard shouting, the Times reported.
The sheriff’s office said Wednesday that the officers “all had clear markings on their vests” during the encounter but did not say whether the officers had announced themselves as police.
The sheriff’s office has previously said it didn’t know whether Reinoehl fired any shots as officers tried to arrest him.
The latest release did not address that fact, except to say a crime lab is examining a fired .380-caliber shell casing found in his vehicle, as well as “the weapons in Mr. Reinoehl’s possession.”
The new release also did not specify whether investigators believe Reinoehl had a weapon separate from the one found partially withdrawn in his pocket. It also did not say whether the partially pocketed gun uses .380-caliber ammunition.
Police have not said whether they have video of the confrontation. None of the task force members were injured.
Four officers fired a total of 37 rounds, with two officers firing handguns and two firing rifles, the sheriff’s office said. The office did not say how many times Reinoehl was shot.
Reinoehl appeared to take responsibility for August killing
In an interview with Vice News in early September broadcast the day he died, Reinoehl, 48, appeared to take responsibility for the killing of Danielson at the Portland protest, alleging that he had acted in self-defense because he and a friend had been about to be stabbed.
“You know, lots of lawyers suggest that I shouldn’t even be saying anything, but I feel it’s important that the world at least gets a little bit of what’s really going on,” Reinoehl said. “I had no choice. I mean, I had a choice. I could have sat there and watched them kill a friend of mine of color. But I wasn’t going to do that.”
In the interview, conducted with freelance journalist Donovan Farley, Reinoehl said he had gone to downtown Portland on the night of August 29 to provide “security” after seeing a caravan of hundreds of Trump supporters parading in vehicles through the city. He described himself as “100% anti-fascist,” though not a member of any antifa group.
Danielson, who was a supporter of the far-right group Patriot Prayer, was shot in the chest during the confrontation and died.
After the shooting, Reinoehl said he realized what had happened and “was confident that I did not hit anyone innocent.” He then left the scene feeling “totally justified (that) had I not acted I am confident that my friend, and I’m sure I, would have been killed.”
Reinoehl said he had decided to speak out because “there’s been a lot of propaganda put out there.”
“What they’ve done is they’ve tried to make it look like we’re all terrorists. And they’re trying to make me look like a murderer,” he said.
The interview was broadcast as officers moved to apprehend him in Washington, according to a federal law enforcement source familiar with the incident.
Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt said Portland police searched Reinoehl’s home and found ammunition of the same caliber used in Danielson’s fatal shooting and clothes that matched what Reinoehl was wearing on the night of the incident.
CNN’s Topher Gauk-Roger and Sarah Moon contributed to this report.