By Suquamish Tribal Council
(Published in the Kitsap Sun, April 23, 2020)
The news that Kitsap County will not press charges against the police officer who caused the death of Stonechild Chiefstick is of concern to the Suquamish Tribe. That local police were unable to manage an uncomfortable situation involving a person of color without violence has become all too common. We believe that this was a preventable homicide. This father of five, a valued member of our community, did not have to die.
There were other options. He could have been asked to leave the crowded July 3 gathering when it was evident that he was experiencing either a mental health or substance abuse episode. That opportunity was clearly present during the first encounter with the police, as shown in the police body cam footage.
Had police officers used de-escalation methods and more skillfully handled the interaction, the encounter could have ended peacefully. Stonechild Chiefstick’s children could still have their father. Poulsbo residents could have looked forward to future July 3rd celebrations free from the remembered trauma of a violent death. More of the Tribal community would have been able to visualize Poulsbo as a safe place to shop and visit.
While we recognize that the decision about whether to prosecute a particular officer for a particular act is a complex one, we have concerns that extend beyond the scope of this decision, in particular the failure to use the earlier contact as an opportunity to de-escalate the situation or to remove Chiefstick from the premises.
Officer Keller may not be charged, but he is still responsible. The other officers at the scene should also be held to account. In failing to de-escalate this situation, they contributed to the death of one man, the irreplaceable loss of a father, son, brother, and partner to others. And their actions traumatized an entire community.
We look forward to the Poulsbo Police Department’s internal review of this incident, and expect it will be thorough and objective, and address the behavior of all the officers at the scene. The Suquamish Tribe will continue to review the report, and will have further statements and/or actions based on this review.