Image via Justice for Stoney Facebook page
Image via Justice for Stoney Facebook page

Keller’s body camera was knocked off during the physical contact with Chiefstick, although audio recording did capture the man’s final moments, as well as his last words: “Hey, chill out, chill out.”

Community members in Poulsbo, Washington, will honor the life of Stonechild “Stoney” Chiefstick, a Native American man who was killed by police in 2019, on Friday, and use the one-year anniversary of his death to call for justice. 

A Stonechild Chiefstick Memorial Caravan will travel to the spot where Chiefstick, a Chippewa Cree and Cowichan man, was shot and killed. The action will also serve as a demonstration calling for an end to “racist police violence,” according to organizers.

Show up and show our for Stonechild Chiefstick! Bring banners, signs, and decorate your car to send Poulsbo a message that we demand#JusticeForStoney!

Posted by Justice for Stoney on Wednesday, July 1, 2020

On July 3, 2019, families gathered together in Muriel Iverson Williams Waterfront Park to await the annual fireworks show. Among that crowd was 39-year-old Chiefstick, who has been described by friends as a loving and hard-working family man. 

As everyone waited for the sun to go down and the fireworks display to begin, police officers on-site were notified that Chiefstick was reportedly behaving in a concerning manner, including allegedly threatening individuals with a screwdriver. 

According to the Kitsap Daily News, police were first alerted to Chiefstick’s behavior when one of the organizers contacted Mayor Becky Erickson, who spoke with an officer and then left the park. Erickson reportedly told officers and investigators she makes a point of not witnessing police interactions with citizens due to her position in the city.

Chiefstick’s family have said he had been struggling with depression and substance use since a close friend had died in the custody of the Kitsap County Jail.

An officer made two contacts with Chiefstick at the request of Poulsbo Police Chief Dan Schoonmaker, according to investigative documents seen and reported on by the Kitsap Daily News. The officer, Michael Miulli, said Chiefstick was on his phone during the interaction and he believed he smelled alcohol on his breath. Chiefstick denied threatening anyone and acted in a friendly manner with the officer. 

Chief Schoonmaker, who was also on the scene, said that he observed Chiefstick staring down officers and that when he went to speak with Chiefstick, he mumbled inaudibly and walked away. A witness is said to have reported Chiefstick’s behavior as concerning to a community services officer, who in turn reported it to officer Craig Keller.

It was when Keller and the community services officer approached Chiefstick that the situation spiraled into a tragedy. 

According to the documents, the two officers grabbed Chiefstick, with the community officer pulling a Taser and Keller pulling his firearm. The documents also claim Chiefstick pulled out a screwdriver, prompting both officers to order him to drop it, before Chiefstick allegedly lunged at Keller with the screwdriver in hand. Keller then reportedly shot Chiefstick twice, once in the face and once in the chest. 

Chiefstick was pronounced dead from those gunshot wounds by paramedics just after 10 p.m. 

Witnesses have said they heard the commands issued followed by shots fired, and some said they saw Chiefstick make a move toward the police. However, two witnesses said they saw Chiefstick drop what appeared to be a screwdriver while attempting to flee from police before being shot by Keller, the Kitsap Daily News reported

Keller’s body camera was knocked off during the physical contact with Chiefstick, although audio recording did capture the man’s final moments, as well as his last words: “Hey, chill out, chill out.”

Keller was placed on administrative leave before being cleared of charges in April. He was placed back on administrative leave on June 2, while a Poulsbo Police Department internal inquiry is underway. 

Schoonmaker said the decision was made in part due to the “new moment” that has unfolded in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in police custody, the Kitsup Sun reports, which has kicked off months of protests across the country against police brutality. The city also announced late last month that Schoonmaker plans to retire in August.

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In addition to the memorial caravan, which will begin at 7 p.m. and run from the Suquamish Village Parking Lot, at 18490 Suquamish Way NE, to Muriel Iverson Williams Waterfront Park, community members will honor Chiefstick’s life by inviting people to light a candle, chant, pray, or sing, beginning at 9:15 p.m., leading to a global moment of silence at 9:22 p.m. 

Organizers also encourage solidarity actions on July 3 to honor Chiefstick’s life and call for justice, provided they are done respectfully and not in a way that would detract from the caravan or the group’s message.