The city of Poulsbo will pay $2 million to settle a civil-rights lawsuit filed by the family of Stonechild Chiefstick, a man police shot at a crowded park during the city’s 2019 Independence Day celebration, according to attorneys.
The shooting occurred in front of hundreds of witnesses attending a celebration and fireworks display at the city’s Muriel Iverson Williams Waterfront Park on July 3, 2019. The lawsuit, relying on video and audio recordings and witness statements, alleged Officer Craig Keller killed Chiefstick, a father of six, 12 seconds after arriving to investigate complaints that Chiefstick had threatened someone with a screwdriver.
The lawsuit, filed last year by Seattle attorney Gabriel Galanda, alleged the Poulsbo Police Department had been lax in its de-escalation training and that Keller, in particular, was prone to unnecessary uses of force.
The lawsuit alleges negligence, racist policing and excessive force by the department and the officers involved.
The Kitsap County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office determined the shooting was lawful and the police department said Keller acted within policy and was not disciplined, citing a number of witnesses who said Chiefstick refused to comply with officers’ orders and lunged at Keller with the screwdriver.
An autopsy showed Chiefstick was under the influence of alcohol and methamphetamine. The examination found he had been shot in the face and chest.
The lawsuit says Keller was responsible for one in five of the 20-person department’s reportable uses of force. According to the department’s annual report, it noted 23 incidents of reportable force in 2019, including the Chiefstick shooting.
According to Galanda, who announced the settlement Friday, Keller has since been promoted.
Telephone messages seeking comment from Shannon Ragonesi, the attorney defending the city and Officer Keller, were not returned Friday.
Chiefstick was a member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation in Montana from his father’s side, and his mother is a Cowichan from Duncan, B.C. Galanda said Chiefstick was raised in Seattle and attended Beacon Hill Elementary and Rainier Beach High School. He has kinship ties to the Suquamish Tribe, and he lived for many years on the reservation, on the Kitsap Peninsula.
“This settlement is part of accountability. It sends a message across this county that law enforcement must prioritize the preservation of life,” said Trishandra Pickup, a Suquamish tribal member and mother to four of Chiefstick’s children. “It also says that Stoney’s life stood for something and that all Indigenous lives matter.”
Pickup has emerged as a leading Indigenous voice for police reform in Washington state, working to pass sweeping police accountability measures in the Legislature last year, including measures that established statewide standards for the use of force and focus on de-escalation training. Gov. Jay Inslee recently appointed her to serve on the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.
The Chiefstick shooting prompted outrage in the Poulsbo community and strained the city’s relations with the Suquamish Tribe. There were protests, rallies and calls for Keller to be fired.
The City Council declined to take disciplinary action against the officer after an extensive internal investigation. However, several members voiced support for building a monument at the park.
The tribe stated Friday the settlement “is a step toward mending our relationship with the City and the community.”
Kitsap County Prosecutor Chad Enright has acknowledged the public has every reason to be skeptical of a process that has his prosecutors reviewing the actions of officers with whom they routinely work. He was a supporter of the formation of an independent state agency to investigate police shootings.
Pickup and others lobbied the Washington Legislature to establish an office of independent investigations last year within the governor’s office, which is set to begin operating July 1.
Galanda said Inslee has promised Pickup and Chiefstick’s children that he will urge the independent office to conduct a new criminal homicide investigation into Chiefstick’s death, and others that occurred after the passage of police-reform Initiative 940 in 2018.
Chiefstick was well known in the community and described by his family and friends as a big man with a kid’s smile and a gift for growing things. He loved to fish, was proud of his Native American heritage and was a righteous fan of the Seattle Seahawks.
Pickup said he was buried in his Seahawks jersey.