The Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office has charged an alleged Antifa supporter with shooting a Proud Boy supporter during the Sat., Sept. 4 protest marches between the two groups.
Twenty-one police officers were involved in the investigations, arrest and reporting about the arrest last Thu., Sept. 23 of alleged “Antifa” supporter Benjamin Anthony Varela, 35, of Olympia. Varela, described by police as a claims adjudicator, was charged with first-degree assault and reckless endangerment in the Sept. 4 shooting of 25-year-old Tusitala Toese, 25, of Battle Ground, WA, a protester who was associated with the “Proud Boys” movement.
The events of Sat., Sept. 4
The two protesting groups had upwards of 30-40 people involved, with Antifa members being chased away from Olympia City Hall by the Proud Boy members. Police say Antifa organizer Miguel Lofland had rallied members to disrupt a local city council candidate’s campaign video, set to be filmed at city hall. According to the police report, Lofland had placed a call to action on social media to “disrupt and shut it down.”
The shooting occurred at the Intercity Transit downtown hub. Five shots were fired. Toese was wounded in the foot. All five shots were reportedly fired by Varela, who fled on foot northbound on Washington street, according to a caller who reported the shooting.
Olympia police located five spent shell casings from a 9mm in the area of the “E” bay at the Intercity Transit Center. There were two markings in a metal pole and another partial fragment bullet in the dirt near Franklin Street, according to the police report.
Toese experienced both entry and exit wounds to his foot and was still bleeding when police arrived. They reported applying two tourniquets to Toese’s leg to staunch the bleeding until medics could arrive.
Security camera identifies girlfriend
Security camera video showed Varela walking hand in hand with a woman downtown. Police say this footage helped them to identify Varela’s girlfriend, Jessica O’Connor. They discovered that she had been contacted by Olympia police at a traffic stop in August 2021 driving a car registered to Varela. Police say they accessed "an open-source internet website" to confirm based on her comments there that she was dating Varela. Multiple websites were used to confirm her identity.
Using a search warrant, O’Connor and Varela were found to be living together at the 500 block of 13th Avenue SE and both were seen by OPD entering their apartment together. Both had the same shoes on that they wore on the surveillance videos at Quality Self Storage and Intercity Transit downtown Center, sporting the same color and the same markings on back of the heel.
Varela was initially arrested for malicious mischief last Thursday 12:42 p.m., with OPD matching his tattoos on his left forearm with those found of the shooter on the survelliance video. Charges were later increased (see video).
O’Connor was contacted by OPD, and admitted that she and Varela were at the protest, dressed in all black, but the two got separated before the protest ended. She stated that Varela has not talked to her about shooting anyone.
Police secured a warrant to search the apartment shared by Varela and O’Connor. There they discovered a handgun in a locked container under the sole bed in the sole bedroom. O’Connor stated that the handgun belonged to Varela, not her.
Also a suspect for graffiti and property damage days later
Varela has also been listed as an alleged suspect for a series of graffiti and property damage on a local downtown Olympia business, Wed., Sept. 8.
Varela was allegedly captured on closed circuit television while painting “ACAB” or “Fuck Fascist” on the front doors of the Three Birds Tattoo Shop at 419 Water Street SW. Olympia Police were able to tie photos of Varela to the graffiti event at the business.
The tattoo shop’s owner contacted Olympia police, who reported that they told them that he felt targeted by the local Antifa group, claiming that local Antifa organizer Miguel Lofland had “doxed” him on social media, providing the owner’s personal information on the internet, including phone number and home address, in an effort to harass him out of business. Another alleged Antifa organizer, Aaron Siegler, was also listed as a continual harasser of the Three Birds Tattoo Shop.
The tattoo shop owner stated that he had observed the couple walking one day, and asked them to stop vandalizing his store.
The property damage includes a window broken out, graffiti on windows, adhesive placed on the front door locks. The total damage is estimated at over $600.
Varela is being held in the Thurston County Jail on a combined bail of $100,000, half for each of the assault and reckless endangerment charges.
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