US Marshal Shot Up a Bathroom All Because of a Zipper

The incident was catalogued in a report accessed by VICE News through a Freedom of Information Act request into the U.S. Marshal fugitive unit which shot and killed an antifascist activist wanted for murder last year.
July 15, 2021, 5:51pm
USMarshalsTwitter
A photo posted to Twitter by the official U.S. Mardshals account. 

A U.S. Marshal stormed an apartment in Portland last year and accidentally fired their gun at a bathroom door during the raid due to getting it caught up in their zipper, without the suspect even being at home.

The mishap was cataloged in a series of incident reports VICE News obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request pertaining to one of the U.S. Marshals’ fugitive units, the Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force, which also pools from local police forces in the region. It made national headlines last year after members of the task force were involved in killing Michael Reinoehl—a self-described antifascist activist who appeared to admit to killing a militia member at a pro-Trump rally in Portland last year—in a gunfight. (After the killing, Donald Trump called it “retribution” for Reinoehl’s alleged murder of one of his supporters and many critics seized on his words as suggesting a state-sponsored hit.) 

According to the bathroom-shooting incident report, filed in mid-November and only months after the killing of Reinoehl, a U.S. marshal busted into the apartment of a wanted fugitive with their colleagues in plain clothes and armed with a handgun. In the ensuing moments of entering the apartment, the officer unknowingly drew their weapon and an “accidental discharge” went off.

“I was attempting to draw my sidearm from my holster,” the marshal wrote about the incident, which later ended in the peaceful apprehension of the suspect. “Instead of unbuttoning the front of my shirt in advance so that I could sweep the side of my shirt and jacket back away from my holster, I attempted to raise my shirt and jacket straight up to draw my sidearm. 

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“I believe that when I did so, I either pinned one of the zipper pull cords between my hand and the trigger guard as I was drawing my sidearm, or I inadvertently depressed the trigger while I was attempting to activate my weapon mounted light with my trigger finger.” 

In civilian speak, the officer is saying they didn’t mean to fire off their gun when they reached for it. The result, however, was that they “discharged a single round into the bathroom door.” The report then says they cleared the apartment without incident and without finding a suspect.

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A screenshot of the bathroom-shooting incident report.

In another example from the reports, which describe use-of-force incidents, a marshal who was deployed to Olympia, Washington, in October 2019 describes how they and other colleagues had “our rifles aimed” at a suspect who was in distress and demanding death-by-cop.

“Kill me like a man and don't tase me,” the suspect is quoted as saying, with the marshal admitting they eventually shot him multiple times with a taser, until finally the man was apprehended. 

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A screenshot of the incident involving a man who wanted death-by-cop.

In the 179 pages of incident reports, there was at least one other incident that resulted in a death: A June 2020 shooting in Wasilla, Alaska, involving a dangerous offender with a history of firearm offences who was reaching for a weapon during a standoff and was shot by marshals.

A U.S. Marshals spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment to VICE News. 

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At the time of Reinoehl’s death, several questions surrounded the role of the U.S. Marshals’ fugitive task force in the Pacific Northwest and whether or not it used excessive force or if Reinoehl, as the marshals claimed, even drew a weapon. One of the few eyewitnesses to the now-infamous shooting spoke with VICE News, and said they didn’t see Reinoehl use a firearm. The New York Times reported that of 22 witnesses they interviewed, only one said police identified themselves or gave an order to Reinoehl before they opened fire on him. 

But later investigators in Washington state said they believed Reinoehl drew a weapon.

“Mr. Reinoehl pointed the handgun that he had in his possession at the officers at the time of the shooting,” read a statement from last year by Lieutenant Ray Brady of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO), which is investigating the incident and did not have officers involved in the highly-scrutinized event. TCSO investigators say they found a shell casing in his vehicle that matches the caliber of the gun that was in his hand, but couldn’t fully verify it was a casing that was discharged during the incident with the U.S. Marshals.

Follow Ben Makuch on Twitter.