"Hi, this is Shonto Pete, the guy who got shot in the head …” The voicemail we received last week was blunt. Three years after he was shot in the back of the head while trying to escape a drunk, off-duty cop who was chasing him with a drawn handgun, the courts had failed Shonto Pete.
Federal Judge Edward Shea last week granted a motion by former Spokane Police Officer Jay Olsen’s attorney to dismiss a $750,000 civil suit filed by Pete. The judge was apologetic, telling Pete he had already been granted an extra 100 days to find an attorney.
Pete says he thought he would still be able to represent himself and was taken aback by what seems to him an abrupt dismissal.
The decision is apparently final — various statutes of limitations have expired — though Pete says he will continue to examine his options. He has previously lost a criminal case, when a Spokane jury acquitted Olsen.
Pete’s ability to find an attorney in his civil case was hampered when the judge released the City of Spokane from the suit. The city successfully argued Olsen was off-duty and not representing the city at the time of the shooting in late February 2008.
Without the city, and without chance of an insurance payout for a deliberate shooting, the money piece was gone.
“Shonto Pete put his faith in the system. It is totally unjust that the city didn’t step up and pay his medical bills. I think they still can,” local civil rights attorney Breean Beggs says.
Both Mayor Mary Verner and City Administrator Ted Danek say they doubt the city — even now, when all liability has been dismissed — can pay Pete’s medical bills, some $20,000.
“That would be a gift of public funds,” Verner says. “The fact that it was a city bullet is too much of a stretch to pay his medical bills. It is emotionally appealing, but a city can’t just pick an individual and pay his medical bills with taxpayer funds.
“Personally, I think Jay Olsen should pay his bills,” Verner says.
Pete says that he reached out to Olsen’s attorneys in the run-up to the civil suit.
“One of my offers to them was to settle out of court. I asked them to just pay my medical bills. And I never heard any response to that,” he says.
Verner says she will work with urban Indian leaders to set up a fund for Shonto Pete.
“I would be glad to contribute to the extent that I can,” Verner says. “I know Shonto Pete and his family. I know medical bills can be daunting.”
But more than money, she adds, “I think an apology would go a long way. I think one thing that irks them so deeply is that no sense of remorse has ever been expressed.”
Pete says he won’t hold his breath. He has not encountered Olsen — outside of various courtrooms, that is — in the three years since the frightening pre-dawn chase through downtown streets and over the steep embankment into Peaceful Valley, where the bleeding man found shelter.
“He has never talked [publicly] about any of this,” Pete says.