Teen driver charged with killing Kent Police officer

Vehicle pursuit results in fellow officer hitting Moreno

A 16-year-old Kent boy faces a second-degree murder charge for driving a pickup truck reportedly involved in the death of Kent Police Officer Diego Moreno.

King County prosecutors filed the charge Wednesday against Emiliano Garcia, who allegedly drove a 2003 Dodge Ram pickup pursued by a Kent Police officer who later inadvertently struck and killed Moreno early Sunday morning at the intersection of Kent Des Moines Road and West Meeker Street. Moreno, 35, of Auburn, had just deployed spike strips to stop the truck shortly before he was hit outside his vehicle.

Garcia is scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday, Aug. 2, at the King County Courthouse in Seattle. He is in custody in the King County Youth Services Center in Seattle with bail set at $1 million. He was charged in adult criminal court because under Washington law, if a juvenile is 16 or 17 years old and is charged with murder in the second degree, charges are to be filed into adult criminal court instead of juvenile court.

Prosecutors charged two 17-year-old passengers in the pickup with unlawful possession of a firearm and one is also charged for possession of controlled substances, according to court documents. They were each charged in juvenile court and are scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Seattle. The Kent Reporter is not naming the two passengers because of their juvenile court status.

“Charging these suspects is an important first step to helping Officer Moreno’s family, the Kent Police Department and the entire community as we work toward healing,” said Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla in a media release Wednesday from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors alleged that the occupants of the truck illegally possessed several guns and fired off numerous rounds in a parking lot and then fled the scene, driving recklessly and attempting to elude the police, according to the media release.

In this case, prosecutors said, the defendant was committing a dangerous felony by attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle. This felony created a serious and grave risk to the public and to police. As a direct result of the defendant’s actions, Officer Moreno was killed.

“There is no place for crime or violence in Kent,” Mayor Dana Ralph said in the release. “As mayor, I am committed to working with the Prosecutor’s Office to hold these suspects accountable for the death and injuries of our officers.”

The officer who hit Moreno during the pursuit suffered severe leg injuries and was transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He is an 18-year veteran of the Kent Police force. Padilla said at a press conference on Monday he wasn’t ready yet to release the officer’s name, but would do so at a later date.

Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jessica Berliner said in court documents that Garcia showed, “willful disregard for the safety of others, including his own friends, innocent bystanders and police officers, directly caused the death of one officer and significant injury to another. …Although the defendant has no criminal convictions, his exceedingly risky conduct throughout the evening demonstrate the substantial risk he presents to the community if he is released without significant bail.”

Garcia admitted he knew police were chasing him, but he fled at speeds of up to 95 mph along Kent Des Moines Road. He crashed the pickup – owned by his father – shortly after hitting the spike strips. None of the teens were seriously injured. Garcia and one passenger fled on foot. The other teen stayed in the truck and told police the names of the other two boys in the truck.

The background

According to court documents and interviews of the three teens by detectives, what turned out to be the fatal night for Officer Moreno began when the boys attended a quinceanera (a celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday). They apparently used cocaine and drank beer at the party, although one of the boys said he didn’t use any cocaine.

The three then met up with four other friends at El Habaneros bar and restaurant, 1819 W. Meeker St., to eat and drink. One teen said they each had between five and six beers before leaving. One of the teens told police his friend had a connection to get them into the bar. That teen also said they had beer on the way to the bar..

A dispute started with what one teen called, “older Hispanic men” at the bar, and one of the boys claimed someone threw a beer bottle at them in the bar parking lot. The groups started to push and shove each other and a few punches were thrown. Two of the teens then decided to shoot their guns in the air to scare the men away.

The one teen told police he fired a Glock 22 that he had purchased from “the streets” in order to look cool. He also admitted it helped to have a gun when he sold marijuana. After they fired their guns, they heard shots from somewhere else in the parking lot, so they ran to the pickup.

Police reported that nobody was apparently injured at the parking lot despite finding about 39 fired cartridge cases in the parking lot from three different types of guns. Detectives found one gun in the pickup after it crashed.

Garcia told detectives after shots were fired his two friends told him to, “just go, just go.” One of the teens said Garcia “panicked” when he saw a police vehicle and sped away.

Police responded shortly after shots were fired and one officer began to chase a red pickup that sped from the scene.

Garcia sped down Meeker Street, went west on Kent Des Moines Road, came back down the hill going eastbound when his truck went through the spike strips.

Moreno’s death

The court documents also described the chase that led to Moreno’s death. Moreno parked his car with his lights on in one of the southbound lanes along West Meeker Street. He had exited his vehicle to deploy the spike strips over one of the eastbound lanes of Kent Des Moines Road. Moreno radioed, “good spikes,” to alert other officers that the suspect vehicle had driven over the spikes, indicating that at least one tire should be in the process of deflating.

As the officer in pursuit of the pickup approached the intersection, he inadvertently struck Moreno with his vehicle, killing him. That officer then collided with vehicles that had been stopped in the left turn lane, waiting to go onto Meeker Street. Nobody in those vehicles suffered serious injuries, according to police.

The report details that despite numerous parked patrol vehicles and the spike strips, the red truck continued through the intersection without stopping. Another officer then picked up the pursuit and saw the pickup driver lose control, hit the center barrier, spin around completely and flip over, coming to rest on its top.

Two occupants fled the truck and jumped over a fence. Police later tracked down both boys at their homes. At some point, friends picked them up and drove them to Garcia’s house on the East Hill. Garcia told police he had keys to the pickup despite not having a driver’s license. He said he told his father he had flipped the truck during a collision.

Garcia told detectives he then went to sleep until officers showed up to arrest him Sunday afternoon, about 12 hours after the chase and Moreno’s death.

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