Investigators believe Derek Carlile's son grabbed a .38-caliber revolver from a cup holder bin on the floor of the family van. The boy, who was known to be fascinated with guns, reportedly fired the revolver once. The bullet struck his sister Jenna as she was seated in the back of the van, waiting for their parents to return from a quick errand at a nearby Stanwood art studio.
Carlile, 31, reportedly told detectives that he usually kept the handgun in a holster on his ankle or locked it up in a side compartment in the driver's door. The officer said that because he was in a hurry that day, he didn't strap the gun to his leg before he parked the van outside the studio, court papers said.
Prosecutors on Tuesday charged Carlile with second-degree manslaughter, alleging that the off-duty officer "left his loaded, unsecured revolver in an enclosed van with four children inside."
"Though the undeniable tragedy and grief that has stricken the defendant and his family is staggering, compassion must be balanced with accountability for the acts which caused it," Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Lisa Paul wrote in charging papers filed in Superior Court.
In a prepared statement issued Tuesday morning, Carlile's attorneys say that the police officer takes full responsibility for his daughter's death but disputes that his actions were criminal.
"This is a double tragedy for the Carlile family that not only lost Jenna, but now also faces the possibility of losing Derek to prison if the prosecution is successful," Seattle attorneys David Allen and Cooper Offenbecher wrote in the statement.
No charges are expected to be filed against the boy who pulled the trigger. According to state law, children under the age of 8 are incapable of committing a crime. Investigators also determined that the boy was too young to reliably testify about what happened.
Prosecutors don't plan to charge Carlile's wife, Forrest, in connection with the March 10 shooting.
When she saw Carlile place the gun in the van's console bin, she asked him what he was doing, court papers said. She later told police that she assumed her husband moved the gun, Paul wrote.
The Camano Island family had stopped at the art studio on their way to a wedding reception. The officer's wife volunteers at the studio and wanted to drop off some business cards that she'd ordered for the owner. Both parents exited the van, leaving their children, ages 1 to 7, inside.
The couple reportedly told investigators that the boy was curious about guns. He plays with toy guns and knew how to pull the triggers.
Carlile told investigators that he typically kept his guns in a locking safe in a closet in their home. The boy has tried to get into the safe in the past, court papers said.
"He's very fascinated with guns and that's why I'm beatin' myself up because I left my damn gun, for forty seconds in the center ... it's like what the hell?" Carlile reportedly told investigators.
Detectives photographed the view in the van from where the boy had been sitting in a booster seat. The child would have had a clear view of Carlile's handgun, even if his mother's purse had been where she said it was at the time of the shooting, prosecutors wrote.
Investigators determined that the revolver has a key lock safety feature. The lock was in the off position -- meaning the loaded weapon was ready to fire -- when police recovered it from the family's van.
The couple told investigators that they got out of the van at the same time. Carlile was talking with the studio's owner while his wife went to drop off the cards and then moved to the garage to inspect the lamps that her husband and their friend had purchased earlier that day.
Carlile told police at some point as he stopped to talk to his friend, he locked the van so the children couldn't get out. He said he heard a thud come from the van and assumed the boy had kicked the vehicle, Paul wrote. A short time later, his 5-year-old daughter climbed out of the van, saying something about a gun and her brother.
The off-duty officer ran to his children and found his oldest daughter, Jenna, slumped over in her seat. He saw blood and realized the girl had been shot. The boy was out of his booster seat and the Smith and Wesson revolver lay on the floor.
A deputy who was summoned to the scene found Carlile attempting life-saving efforts on Jenna. The officer's wife and their children were outside the van, crying.
The deputy noted that Carlile was "extremely distraught," but continued to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on his daughter until paramedics arrived. The deputy noted that Jenna had a small hole near her belly button. The deputy and her father attempted to revive the girl with an automated defibrillator and packed her wound to reduce bleeding.
Paramedics raced the girl to the hospital. Her mother rode with the child in the ambulance.
Jenna died the next day.
Snohomish County sheriff's detectives completed their investigation into the girl's death and forwarded the case last month to prosecutors for review.
In her affidavit, Paul detailed the challenges that detectives faced in interviewing the children as witnesses. Carlile and his attorneys didn't believe that necessary. Investigators ultimately sought a judge's assistance in compelling interviews using a special inquiry proceeding, but they did so in a setting designed to put young witnesses at ease.
The 5-year-old testified that her brother got out of his seat and picked up the gun. She said she heard a boom.
Detectives obtained a copy of a firearms study guide from the state's police academy, where Carlile received his training. He has been a police officer since 2009. One of the chapters addresses concerns about children and firearms safety, listing some common misconceptions, including the ideas that children don't know how guns work or they aren't strong enough to use them, court papers said.
Three other children in the state were shot with handguns within a couple months of Jenna's death. A Tacoma boy, 3, accidentally killed himself with a gun. Two people have been charged with manslaughter in connection with that case. Three weeks before that, a Bremerton girl, 8, was critically injured by a gun brought to school by a classmate. Prosecutors also filed criminal charges in that shooting. Last month, a Spokane police officer's 10-year-old daughter shot herself in the leg with the man's duty weapon.
"Other cases in other places didn't play a role in our decision nor did the occupation of the defendant," Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe said Tuesday. "He was a dad in a hurry and something really horrible happened."
Prosecutors allege that Carlile failed to heed or be aware of the substantial risk that death would occur when he left a loaded gun within reach of his children.
"The defendant's failure to be aware of this substantial risk was a gross deviation from the standard that a reasonable person would exercise in the same situation," Paul wrote.
Carlile is expected to be arraigned on the manslaughter charge June 5. Prosecutors don't intend to ask a judge to impose bail, reasoning that the officer isn't a flight risk or a danger to the community. They are expected to request that Carlile be banned from having any guns pending the trial.
Carlile remains on paid administrative leave from his police job.
This is the second time since 2009 that Snohomish County prosecutors have charged a police officer in connection with a shooting death. Former Everett police officer Troy Meade was acquitted of a murder charge after he shot a belligerent drunken man during a traffic stop.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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