Michael Reinoehl, the antifascist activist accused of the killing Aaron “Jay” Danielson in during a right-wing protest in Portland last month, was shot and killed by officers who were dispatched to arrest him near Olympia, Washington on September 3rd. Now an eyewitness is contradicting the federal account of Reinoehl’s final moments, alleging that — far from attempting to “peacefully arrest” Reinoehl — law enforcement opened fire on him without warning, and that Reinoehl himself never brandished a gun.
In an interview with Vice News filmed shortly before his death, Reinoehl appeared to acknowledge that he had shot Danielson during a confrontation in downtown Portland, insisting, “I had no choice.” Affiliated with the far right group Patriot Prayer, Danielson had been part of a Trump “cruise rally” that veered off local freeways into urban Portland streets and clashed with counter-protesters. Reinoehl described himself as “100% ANTIFA all the way” on social media; the white 48-year-old had volunteered as security during local Black Lives Matter protests. The encounter between the men was quick and deadly. Danielson released bear spray at Rienoehl, who allegedly fired two shots, killing Danielson, according to a warrant issued for Reinoehl’s arrest on charges of second degree murder and unlawful use of a firearm.
According to federal authorities, the Portland Police Bureau “asked the US Marshals to locate and apprehend” Rienoehl. The U.S. Marshals’ “fugitive task force,” which included the FBI, as well as state and local law enforcement, soon located him at an apartment complex near Olympia, Washington, and “attempted to peacefully arrest him,” according a statement released by the Marshals. In their version of events, Reinoehl “produced a firearm, threatening the lives of law enforcement officers,” before “task force members responded to the threat and struck the suspect,” killing him on the spot.
The Marshals are a branch of the Justice Department. And in a separate statement, Attorney General Bill Barr elaborated on the encounter: “When Reinoehl attempted to escape arrest and produced a firearm, he was shot and killed by law enforcement officers,” Barr insisted. Barr’s statement was starkly political, applauding the “takedown” of Reinoehl as a victory for Trump’s brand of law-and-order. Calling Reinoehl “a dangerous fugitive, admitted Antifa member, and suspected murderer,” Barr insisted his killing was a “significant accomplishment in the ongoing effort to restore law and order to Portland,” adding: “The streets of our cities are safer with this violent agitator removed, and the actions that led to his location are an unmistakable demonstration that the United States will be governed by law, not violent mobs.”
But a new witness to the killing of Rienoehl now alleges that the fugitive task force itself behaved as a violent mob. The witness, Nate Dinguss, released his description of events through an attorney, relating that “officers never attempted to apprehend Reinoehl and did not issue any commands prior to shooting at him.” The eyewitness, his attorney describes, saw the task force ambush Reinoehl, whom Dinguss had seen “walking toward his car with his cellphone in his hand chewing on a gummy worm when two unmarked law enforcement vehicles suddenly converged from different directions and began firing at Reinoehl.”
Dinguss, the lawyer relates, “never observed a firearm on Reinoehl” and did not see “Reinoehl reach for anything.” Instead, Rienoehl ducked for cover by his car as “officers shot multiple rapid-fire rounds at Reinoehl before issuing a brief ‘stop’ command, quickly followed by more rapid-fire shooting by additional officers.” After shooting Reinoehl, Dinguss alleges, officers let the injured man languish, making “no attempt to render life-saving aid … until multiple minutes following the shooting.”
Dinguss’s attorney, Luke Laughlin of Olympia, would not make his client available for an interview, citing concern over his well-being. “We are very concerned for our client’s safety for speaking out, both from the fascist right, and retaliation by law enforcement,” Laughlin said. He would only identify Dinguss as an ordained minister of 19 years. Public records indicate that a 39-year-old Nathan Dingus lives on the same block in Lacey, Washington, where the shooting occurred.
The U.S. Marshalls did not respond to a request for comment on the new eyewitness account. Given that numerous levels of federal, state, and local law enforcement who were involved in the encounter, attorney Laughlin is calling for an investigation by “a completely independent agency with no involvement” in the killing. The Thurston County Sherriff’s office, whose deputies were not directly involved in confronting Reinoehl, is reviewing the incident.
“Given the political sentiment of the deceased, and the national climate regarding police shootings, the investigation ought to be handled by an outside organization without ties to law enforcement,” Laughlin said. “It is imperative that the circumstances of Reinoehl’s death not be swept aside.”