Man Arrested for Throwing Rocks at Olympia, WA, Firefighters

May 24, 2024
The suspect is accused of throwing "softball size rocks' at crews at a woods fire.

Martín Bilbao

The Olympian (Olympia, Wash.)


May 24—Olympia police arrested a 33-year-old man last week for allegedly throwing rocks at fire crews responding to a car fire at a wooded encampment off Martin Way.

The man was booked into the Thurston County jail on May 15 on suspicion of third-degree assault. The Prosecuting Attorney's Office charged him with the crime on Monday, according to court records.

On Thursday, the Olympia Police Department shared a photo on social media site X of the man being arrested, and the department alleged the man threw "softball size rocks" at Olympia firefighters. The post says this is one of several incidents in the last few weeks where individuals have "interfered" with fire crews responding to emergencies.

"Seconds matter for emergency response," the post says. "If you have concerns about a response/incident, please call non-emergency dispatch to speak to the appropriate responding agency. Give responders room to work, for everyone's safety."

The alleged rock-throwing incident occurred at about 5 p.m. April 24 on the 3200 block of Martin Way East, Police Lt. Paul Lower said.

Lower said a fire crew responded to extinguish a car fire at an encampment in a wooded area that locals often refer to as the Jungle.

However, when they arrived, Lower said multiple people tried to interfere with the crews' response. The man who was later arrested allegedly told police he believed the fire crew was intentionally spraying people in the encampment with a water gun and laughing, according to court records.

Michael Buchanan, Deputy Fire Chief for the Olympia Fire Department, declined to comment and directed The Olympian to Kellie Braseth, the city's Strategic Communication Director. When asked about the incident, Braseth shared a prepared statement.

"Responding to fires at encampments can be difficult and unpredictable, largely due to issues of access to the fire and the variety of obstacles crews might encounter during the response," Braseth said.

"Fire crews have learned to adapt their fire response in ways that keeps firefighters, encampment residents, and the general public safe. Working in crisis situations is what our firefighters do every day, and they do so with the highest level of professionalism."

Braseth added the city is proud of the working relationship between its fire department, police department and housing and homeless team.

"We are grateful for our emergency responders and for the care and support they provide vulnerable members of our community on a daily basis," Braseth said.

Braseth did not respond to questions about similar incidents that reportedly occurred, according to the X post. She also did not directly answer questions about whether the city would investigate the man's claims against the fire crew.

The Olympia Fire Department reported the incident to police on April 29, Lower said. Using a video, officers identified the man who was later arrested, he said.

After being contacted, Lower said the man voluntarily met with officers on May 15 outside a clothing store on Pacific Avenue. Lower said the man was arrested there without incident.

Officers are still looking for at least one other suspect involved in the incident, Lower said.

The man who allegedly threw rocks attended his preliminary appearance in Thurston County Superior Court on May 16. Judge Anne Egeler found probable cause for the alleged crime, set bail at $5,000 and barred the man from contacting three firefighters.

The man posted bail on May 17, according to court records. However, he was transferred to the Nisqually Corrections Center where he's being held on suspicion of a Department of Corrections violation.

The man's adult criminal history dates back to 2008 and includes multiple assault, harassment, obstructing and other convictions.

What happened on April 24?

A probable cause statement describes the investigation into the alleged crime from the perspective of law enforcement.

A fire crew member told police that they decided to use a water gun on top of a fire-engine to spray water onto a burning vehicle from a distance.

They reportedly opted to use the water gun because there were reports of ammunition possibly exploding in the vehicle and they believed people in the encampment, as well as dogs, were generally "hostile" towards first responders.

The water gun caused several areas of the encampment to get wet, according to the statement. Several people then emerged from the woods and yelled at fire crews to stop, according to the statement.

One person allegedly got into a crew member's face to demand the water be shut off, another grabbed a hydrant pack and threw it into some bushes, and another person threw a large stick and multiple rocks at the scene.

One crew member told police he grabbed a hydrant wrench and struck an incoming rock out of the air with it to defend himself. He described the rocks as approximately fist sized, according to the statement.

Crew members reportedly took cover behind the fire engine and the crowd retreated into the woods when police arrived on scene.

Police later reviewed video of the incident that a crew member took with their phone.

An officer identified the person who allegedly threw rocks at the fire crew on May 1 and prepared a photo montage of individuals. On May 2, two of three crew members picked out the man out of a lineup who would later be arrested.

Officers searched the Jungle to find the man but they were unsuccessful, according to the statement.

On May 14, an officer called the man by phone and he agreed to meet the officer at about 2:15 p.m. the next day.

Following his arrest, the man reportedly explained his actions in a statement to police. He allegedly said he believed firefighters were intentionally spraying people in the encampment.

He also said he observed firefighters laughing and pointing at objects in the encampment as water was being sprayed, the statement says.

The man allegedly admitted to throwing a stick and getting in the face of crew members, but he did not recall throwing rocks, according to the statement. He said he let his emotions get the best of him and he was not acting right.

He reportedly denied using narcotics at the time of the incident and said he was not under the influence of anything.

The statement notes he was cooperative with the investigation and nothing of evidentiary value was found on his person.


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