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Wash. trooper who was shot in face to return to full active duty

Trooper Dean Atkinson, 29, was critically wounded when Brandon O’Neel, 38, shot five times through his cruiser window

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Washington State Patrol

By Cameron Probert
Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.)

WALLA WALLA, Washington — A Washington State Patrol trooper expects to return to full duty about a year after a shooting nearly cost him his life.

The Washington State Patrol released a 7-minute video interview with Trooper Dean Atkinson, 29, speaking about what the last year of recovery has been like.

Atkinson had been shot in the face, lost part of two fingers and was left critically injured after an alleged confrontation with Brandon O’Neel, 38, at a Walla Walla intersection in September 2022.

He had his final surgery to repair the damage to mouth and cheek in March, he said in the video. The surgery went better than even the doctors expected, he said.

“I went for a follow-up visit and they left the room and they were like high-fiving and all the doctors were cheering and congratulating themselves,” he said. “They came back in and I was like, ‘I thought you told me that this was simple.’ They were kind of like, ‘No. It’s actually one of the hardest places we can do a plastic surgery because of all of your nerves.’”

Since getting the final surgery, Atkinson has been able to return to two of his favorite past times, skiing and golf, and was married on July 22.

While people initially questioned whether the wedding would be postponed, he said they were committed to the date.

“My one goal is, ‘I’m still here. Why wouldn’t we do the wedding?’” he said in the video. “It was the greatest day of my life on many levels.”

He started working again in a light duty capacity at the state patrol in June, he said. He was assigned to help the criminal investigation division, along with doing the training he needs to return to patrol duty.

“The last few months working alongside of them was pretty special and I don’t think a lot of guys get that in-depth opportunity,” he said.

Atkinson is hoping to return to full duty in October, and he will spend some time with a field training officer before fully returning to patrol. He spent some time serving with the National Guard recently as well.

“I have been urged to take it slow even though I’m very anxious to get back into the car,” he said.

The trial against O’Neel is currently on hold as he receives mental health treatment, according to court records.

He is charged in Walla Walla Superior Court with attempted first-degree murder, attempted first-degree assault, attempting to elude police, making a bomb threat and harassment.


The video comes shortly after the Regional Special Investigations Unit wrapped up its investigation of the crash that ended Brandon O’Neel’s alleged string of crimes.

The Walla Walla County Prosecutor determined that now Sgt. Nat Small was justified when he rammed O’Neel’s car to get him to stop.

“This is not a situation where the officer simply rammed the suspect vehicle as hard as possible to disable it or run it off the road, but one where the officer applied skill to bring a fleeing suspect to stop in as safe of a manner possible before the suspect did more harm,” Prosecutor Gabriel Acosta said in his analysis.

The Regional Special Investigations Unit is called in to investigate cases where agencies use force in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties. In this case, they investigated both Atkinson’s shooting and Small forcing the car off of the road.

Small used his patrol vehicle to cause O’Neel’s car to spin out on Highway 125. O’Neel was arrested shortly after his car was sent off the road.

Police first started looking for O’Neel on Sept. 22, 2022 after someone noticed a sign that said “bomb” while serving an eviction notice, according to court documents.

Shortly before 11 a.m. during the eviction process, police noticed that O’Neel allegedly left a note on his door that said “Evict me an I will execute any cop or manager you send period,” court documents said.

O’Neel showed up at the apartment in a 2002 Toyota Echo, where he tried to get inside. After not being able to get inside, he left the area.

Atkinson crossed his path nearly 20 minutes later where he tried to stop the silver car near the 1300 block of West Poplar Street, according to the SIU report. After turning on his overhead lights, the car slowed and turned until he stopped in the middle of the road behind the trooper’s car.

A man, believed to be O’Neel, got out of the car holding a black handgun. He went over to the driver’s side door and fired at least five rounds into the door.

The trooper then drove himself to Providence St. Mary’s Medical Center. He was flown from there to Harborview Medical Center.

Chase and Crash

O’Neel allegedly drove away, heading south into Oregon, where he was spotted in Milton-Freewater, according to the SIU report. An officer reported seeing O’Neel drinking something.

He turned north back into Washington, where the Milton-Freewater officer was joined by Walla Walla police and sheriff’s deputies.

The SIU report that was released from the Walla Walla Prosecutor’s Office had limited details about what happened during the crash that forced O’Neel to give up.

Those details were included in Acosta’s analysis. While he didn’t include, Small’s statement, he recounted what the officer told SIU investigators.

Small said he had been with Walla Walla PD and sheriff’s deputies when they tried evicted O’Neel. As they were preparing, Small learned that O’Neel drives a Toyota Echo.

On the evening of the shooting, Small was checking Fort Walla Walla Park when he heard Milton-Freewater police start the chase with what he believed was the suspect in the Walla Walla shooting, according to Acosta’s report.

He caught up with the pursuit north of Milton-Freewater, and followed O’Neel back into Washington, Acosta said. As he took the lead, he said he saw an opportunity to use a technique to get O’Neel to stop.

He struck the back of the car and forced the car into the center divider on the highway. It spun around and stopped. Small hit the vehicle again, stopped and backed up.

“Small stated that he believed that O’Neel would be holding a firearm at the time of the impact and stated that he wanted to impact O’Neel’s vehicle with sufficient force to surprise O’Neel and cause him to drop the firearm,” Acosta said in his report.

Small gave the man commands to keep his hands up and exit the vehicle.

This story was originally published October 13, 2023, 11:32 AM.


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