By Victoria Cavaliere
SEATTLE (Reuters) - A police officer in the Washington state capital of Olympia shot and wounded two unarmed black men suspected of trying to steal beer from a supermarket on Thursday, law enforcement said, prompting protests in the city.
The two brothers, aged 21 and 24, were hospitalized, one in critical condition with multiple gunshot wounds, Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts told a news conference.
Officer Ryan Donald, who had been with the Olympia Police Department for three years, told authorities the men had no weapons but attacked him with a skateboard, and that he had issued a verbal warning before opening fire.
The incident follows a series of fatal police confrontations across the United States that have put law enforcement agencies under scrutiny over the use of force, particularly against minorities.
After reports of the shooting, several protests took place in Olympia, a city of about 48,000 people where only 2 percent of the population is black, according to U.S. Census data.
Around 400 took to the streets on Thursday evening, meeting at a park before marching to City Hall, according to local newspaper The Olympian. Photos of the demonstration published by the paper showed a racially mixed group, with many whites taking part.
The police chief said Donald, who is white, and other officers responded to an assault call at a supermarket around 1 a.m. An employee reported that two men who were trying to steal beer had thrown the items at him and then ran away.
One man was shot in a confrontation with Donald, Roberts said, and the two suspects then ran into the woods. When they re-emerged, multiple shots were fired, Roberts said.
"There was some sort of confrontation there, and the officer felt threatened and discharged his firearm," Roberts said.
The men shot were identified as brothers Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin. Thompson, the older brother, was stable while Chaplin was critical but expected to survive, Chief Brad Watkins of the Thurston County Sheriff's Office said.
Donald was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. The Olympia police will not be involved in the probe, Watkins said.
Olympia police are not equipped with body-worn cameras and there was no dashboard camera video of the incident, he said.
The Thurston County prosecuting attorney will review the investigation to decide if the use of force was reasonable.
(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Will Dunham and Lisa Lambert)